There is nothing new about the fragmentation and constant infighting afflicting humanity today; we have lived for millennia in conflict with one another, at odds with ourselves, and increasingly alienated from our true source in life. What is new in our day is the immensely destructive potential of the technology arming our habitual sectarian egotism, and the lethal consequences of our disruption of the planet’s ecology. Despite our much vaunted progress and intelligence, we have continued to disregard all evidence pointing to the irrationality of our exclusive personal and tribal aspirations. As a result, our species seems to be unwittingly marching into a new dark age in which millions, if not billions, will have to live in horrendous conditions, or will simply perish, while a minority presuming itself highly deserving attempts a hurried escape to another unfortunate planet.
At the heart of this book pulsates an ordinary person’s discontent with the culturally and biographically determined mindset responsible for this harrowing state of affairs. I am not alone, however, in feeling that there is something terribly wrong with the human mind and the way we customarily live and die. A growing number of individuals feel the same disgust with self and culture and are equally puzzled by the fact it affect them and not others. The insensitivity and mental dullness that comes with identification with particular forms of cultural tradition and personal experience is a collective phenomenon, so no one can claim personal merit for a revulsed awakening to its presence and disastrous consequences. For all we know, this undeserved insight into humanity’s mental and social reality may well be life’s charitable last attempt to heal humanity’s self-inflicted mental illness before it becomes fully suicidal.
This full revelation of things as they are, and as dangerous as they are, cannot occur unless the mind is somehow free of the exclusive cultural traditions and personal memories that mechanically guide personal thought away from any source of discontent, and towards eventual and exclusive contentment. Human beings everywhere are still blindly hoping to achieve exclusive secular or religious fulfillment, and it is precisely by means of these false and contradictory projections (and the separate memories that spawn them) that we manage to stave off full awareness of our insanely divided and conflicted mental and social reality. In fact, the delusion of personal uniqueness and tribal importance that gives shape and endurance to just about every individual mind is the reason why the species as a whole remains incapable of the full and accurate assessment of circumstances that would lead to an appropriate and immediate correction. This implies, of course, that the prerequisite for significant mental and social change is freedom from stale memories, rigid identifications, and the illusion of a better future in which “my” immediate groups of reference, and “me,” will come to enjoy the comfortable state of mind and the improved material, social, and “spiritual” circumstances we (all) think we deserve. In other words, only the disappearance of the self-centeredness and the cultural provincialism that have forever sickened the brain and constricted the mental function can bring about a free and, therefore, intelligent and caring mind.
If you happen to have grown weary of blind conformity to tradition and personal experience determining your every thought and action, this book is for you.
The brief and micro essays making up this collection are like narrow little roads leading in many different directions and presenting different angles of view and degrees of difficulty, but all traversing the same psychological and cultural territory. They were written more or less in the order in which they appear, but since there is no linear and cumulative way to accurately see ourselves and the world, it is left to you, the reader, to proceed in whatever order may seem more appealing.
The resilience of psychological defenses impeding direct perception of mental conditioning and its deleterious effects are the only justification for the redundancy you will surely detect as you read further. Some readers may find useful trying out the different optics deployed here to view the deepest roots of human disorder and suffering; others may come rapidly and directly to the same perception after only a brief perusal. Those who find the reiteration of themes and the variety of perspectives evident in these pages as only reflecting the opaqueness of the author’s intellect are probably quite right.
One last note regarding the text; whenever you see “I” or “me” written like this, between quotation marks, please take it simply as an invitation to place yourself as the one who is saying whatever the sentence says. This is just a matter of helping you position yourself to best advantage in the consideration of certain issues, and not a manipulative maneuver to get you to accept on faith what is being said about them. At every point, please keep in mind that full insight into the nature of the self-centered and conditioned mind and the social reality this mind generates cannot be directly transferred from one person to another. Pre-established knowledge and authority are a great part of what keeps the blindfold of conformity so tightly tied.
The art on the cover is from an oil painting, and that between covers from Sumi ink paintings made on glass.
As always, my heartfelt gratitude to Kim Schrag who in every possible way made this book possible.
In failing to see ourselves as the offspring of life, we routinely deny children full awareness of their oneness with the undecipherable totality of existence. We are early prey to indoctrination by the peculiar beliefs, norms, and expectations of the families and the other groups and institutions from which we derive our particular sense of social belonging and personal identity, and so we mechanically subject our young to the same brain wash. Of course, not all aspects of this forced socialization are negative. Our survival and development as a species would have been impossible without the means of communication that allows us to relate and the scientific knowledge and technological progress from which a significant part of the human population derives vastly improved (if not always sensible) living conditions. However, the tribal division and general alienation from life that are a huge part of the cultural and psychological conditioning of the human mind, have remained constant, along with all the personal, relational, and now global ecological problems that stem from them.
In other words, human intelligence, so evident in certain respects, does not seem to function when it comes to seeing and setting aside the divisive ethnocentric and self-centric thinking that has already created so much conflict and sorrow for countless generations of human beings. The conflicting stories different individuals (and groups) tell themselves about the nature of life and death and their own identity and existence make us all equally estranged from the totality of existence. In our day, what different groups and individuals are doing to maintain and strengthen their thought-based claim to separate existence, is not only the source of more of the same conflict and sorrow humans have always known, but also a threat to the very survival of the species. Yet, even the horrendous possibility of human extinction seems unable to wake us up to the fact and consequences of our dysfunctional tribal and personal isolation and the existential alienation we share. What is wrong with us?
Self-centered thought and knowledge that is intrinsically fragmentary and limited generates a psychological and cultural reality that ignores or denies the actuality of a living universe that by virtue of its scale, multidimensionality, and complex dynamic interconnection is infinitely and forever beyond our capacity to perceive, know, learn, think, and project. The sense of an autonomous and evolving personal existence lies at the core of this atomized and dysfunctional mental and social system, and the entity that comes into existence through identification with cumulative cultural and personal experience, endures by means of clever rationalizations and hopeful or fearful projections that obfuscate or altogether deny its endemic insensitivity, violence, and sorrow. In this manner, the absurdity and danger of the general situation remains largely invisible to billions of separate, experience and knowledge-based individuals obsessively occupied with their own material gain and mental comfort. Uniformly caught in the flypaper of images and ideas, memories and projections, we remain unaware of our shared participation in existence and the creative and democratic finality of death. Despite the cleverness and frequent good will of our best initiatives, we remain the same isolated, conflicted, fearful, violent, and sorrowful creatures we have already been for thousands of years. (1)
Psychologically, we are the sedimentation of pre-personal, cultural, and biographical experience, and as self-projective re-combinations and expressions of this general accumulation of knowledge, we remain largely unaware of the disorder and suffering this mindset continuously generates and is incapable of overcoming. The multiple ills we suffer are not then our central problem, but mere symptoms of it. Our central problem is rather the inability to see properly the cultural division and psychological isolation that determines in everyone the sense of having a separate identity and a particular life. This catastrophic misperception of fact is sustained in time by the same fragmented consciousness convinced that its very existence depends on it. Verbal descriptions of this pervasive and deeply ingrained lack of awareness and its impact on our mental and social life have no power to overcome it, because they too are just ideas, crude expressions of the same flawed system of thought that is responsible for the problem in the first place. Thus, any call for a radical examination of the entire human experience is generally heard through a filter of armored prejudice that will then either disregard it (“it is not me or us that are in disorder and suffering”), or interpret it as an external threat justifying further defensive isolation and more of the same dysfunctional and reactive behavior that has already done so much damage to human beings and the world at large.
Early recognition of the intrinsic limitations of all verbal representations, and especially those referred to the human condition, is essential because it brings to the fore the need for a stand-alone perception of the actual limitations and dangers of self-centered thought in all its personal and tribal/sectarian guises and disguises. Real change can only come through the irruption into the mind of an unprecedented awareness; unprecedented in the sense of being largely unrelated to the knowledge and thought constitutive of all cultural sanctuaries and each particular self, and thus capable of leaving bare their falseness and dysfunctional character.
It is the very nature and necessity of this insight into the intrinsic limitation and ultimate futility of egocentric and tribal thought that precludes the provision of an alluring description of such insight and its aftermath, along with the method necessary for attaining them. The adoption of any predetermined goal and method would only be a relapse into the same mental process whereby the separate self (our root problem) endlessly secures its continuity by engaging in predetermined and slight modifications of itself. Why would self-centered, knowledge-based thought opt for realizing the terminal incompetence of its never-ending process of irrelevant (exclusive) becoming?
It is to be consequent with all this, that our inquiry must begin by rejecting any method or practice designed to help one gradually achieve some pre-established version of secular or religious “enlightenment.” Different ideological interpretations and projections of personal reality only serve to hide the fact that the self is a particular manifestation of a general and tragic phenomenon of self-isolating and self-replicating mental conditioning.
Awareness of the divisive and disorderly character of the human mind and the unstable and violent world this mind has created, even if incomplete, naturally leads to the question of whether an unthinkably different mode of being human exists. Let us assume for a minute that such an expression of humanity is not only possible, but already present in the world. An essential part of this assumption would have to be that the people who embody this modality of being are unaware of themselves as a group. This simply because, unlike any other group of individuals integrated into a particular social subset, they would not have a common cultural identity based on a particular tradition and shared personal memories. Besides, if they did not share a group identity, we would have to grant them as well a lack of any sense of manifest destiny aimed —among other things— at improving their relative standing as a group among other such groups.
To ask further what could possibly generate a group of people made paradoxically distinct by their lack of cultural affiliation and personal identity, inevitably leads one to suppose that it must be a similar awareness —and common rejection— of the mental conditioning that generates this malignant division among human beings. In them, extremely intense and accurate observation (both intra- and extra-psychic) must have dissolved at some point the mental programming that in most human beings mechanically affirms, defends, and projects a particular sense of gradually evolving personal existence lived within the parameters of a particular historical and ideological context. What could a free and open mind be if not the absence in such a mind of the imprint of cultural and psychological experience that comes from life-long and ironclad insertion in family, clan, institution, and tribe? If there is such a thing as a free mind, it must be because it does not carry the fixed behavioral imprint of gender, race, age, religion, nationality, social and economic class, education, profession, and any other similar determinants of self-propelled identity.
Only negative terms can describe the awakening to the falseness and danger of the prevalent mode of personal being but, as already suggested, even this negative description is still unrelated to the actual awakening, let alone its outcome, both of which lay outside the realm of knowledge and speculative thought. We can imagine a set of individuals as being something other than the memories, interpretations, and projections typical of “normal” isolated psychological entities alienated from life, but we cannot gather any positive knowledge about who they are if they are nothing that we may re-cognize. The very knowledge we have of ourselves and of life (who we think we are) renders impossible any conclusive affirmation about the deeper nature of minds free of personal and sectarian knowledge. Even though admittedly limited, this little imaginative exercise can put in evidence the dangerously exclusive and contradictory memories, claims, and hopes that condition our minds and sour our relationships, and in doing so usher in consideration of an entirely different mode of human existence. It also highlights the all-important caveat that acquiring more knowledge presumably leading to the realization of a new idealized self is the exact opposite of what is needed, which is simply to see oneself and the world as they are, and in this very perception realize the absolute necessity of a mode of human existence not mediated by anything.
The query starts and ends then by confronting a paradox that leaves self-centered thought with nothing left to chew. The default setting of the machinery of thought determines that there is a solution to practically every problem, and here we are confronted with a problem —the insensitive isolation of a mind conditioned and sustained by personal and tribal experience— for which it can have no solution. The revelation of this impasse through the immediate, complete, and completely lucid perception of the nature of our isolated minds and chaotic world determines the instantaneous end of the conditioned and alienated process of self-centered thought that keeps creating and recreating this awful reality. There is no progressive movement between a mind encapsulated in prejudice and egocentric desire, and an un-self-centered and un-programmed mind, simply because there is no relation between the two. A mind free of selfsolating conditioning may be possible, but it is essential to realize that such a mind cannot possibly be the outcome of the premeditated projection and willful effort typical of the ever self-modifying and self-perpetuating personal mind.
This assertion that the advent of a mind free of conditioning cannot be mediated by personal thought and desire may sound at first very strange, even absurd. However, freedom may be very close if you already sense that the dogged reiteration of traditional, partial, and gradual solutions to the fundamental mental and social problems we have been dragging along with us for thousands of years is completely mad. It is indeed insane to remain behind the advancing walls of our respective psychological and sectarian enclosures and still believe that human unity and peace are possible. There is absolutely no particular political, demographic, religious, racial, legal, educational, scientific, or economic sector of humanity—certainly no individual person identified with any particular set of mental constructs—that has the capacity to counteract conclusively the increasingly atomized and steadily deteriorating mental, social, and ecological situation of the species as a whole.
Perhaps you already sense that the massive danger posed by the mental stagnation and affective weakness of self-encapsulating and self-projecting biographical and tribal entities could only diminish and eventually disappear if the antagonistic isolation of the human mind were to dissolve, person by person. For what, if not this dissipation of personal identity, could heal the general insanity that has been afflicting humanity for so long and is now threatening its very survival? Well, the passive (non-self-projecting) realization of the inescapable necessity of this solution is in itself the emergence of a mind unburdened by particular forms of tribalism and self-centeredness, a mind that has somehow awakened from the nightmarish conditioned alienation affecting the species as a whole.
We may be getting ahead of ourselves, however, so let us trace our steps back and take a more complete look at the conditioned mind that may be feeling the need to reduce or go beyond its absurdities, limitations, and sorrows. Even the most intense discontent with group traditions and mental habits may be no match to the multiple and subtle blocks with which the self-centered psyche will try to prevent the actual occurrence of a complete and direct perception of itself, and by extension, of the human condition. It is essential, therefore, to approach this general challenge by gaining a first-hand impression of the effectiveness and stealth of the mechanisms that allow self-centered thought to prolong itself, regardless of the light that may be shined to make evident the futility and deviousness of exclusive hope, faith, and desire. This dynamic system of self-protection is an integral part of who we are, thus even significant intellectual clarity about personal and cultural alienation as the central problem of human existence does little to put an end to it, much less provide direct access to whatever one may think is an enlightened state of being. There is no such a thing as “me and my defense system” or “me and the projection of a better me”; the self is that which is always defending itself and projecting idealized versions of itself into the future.
The cultural and psychological programming of the brain/mind is, in itself, the lack of integral perception and understanding that, if present, would swiftly end further efforts to attain in the future slightly modified versions of the same programming. The self resists the truth about itself, because an undivided perception of the falseness and futility of its separate and on-going existence implies the end of this existence. Even some of the most self-aware and socially and ecologically conscious individuals fail to confront the false conceit of separate existence, because at some deep level of consciousness there is still a sense that such confrontation would damage their social and economic standing and possibly bring about serious mental disorganization, if not death. The presumption that the separate self and its splintered world constitute the only possible reality is so deeply set in memory, thought, desire, and will, that we are generally unaware of its presence, let alone willing to test its validity regardless of the consequences.
Some of us see the unending division, conflict, and sorrow of history and our personal stories as just the lot of humanity, and are consequently mostly concerned with procuring whatever power, success, and pleasure we feel will make our lives pleasant or just bearable. Others believe that disorder and suffering will be progressively overcome through evolutionary change (secular progress), and consequently spend most of their lives attempting to impose on others the goals and methods of their political, economic, scientific or technological reforms and revolutions. Many others, still the greatest majority, believe that this vale of tears is only a temporary state designed to yield to a life of plenitude following death and resurrection, or the end of a given cycle of reincarnations. Any ideological recipe for self-projection into an imaginary future serves the general purpose of keeping the striving individual alienated from others who are themselves occupied with the same process of becoming, only that propelled by different beliefs, hopes and procedures. The movement of desire that stems from marginally different forms of the same self-centered insecurity and chases after exclusive fulfillment, keeps the entire species divided and at odds with itself, and hence unable to deal caringly and effectively (intelligently) with the consequences of its permanent egotism, conflict, injustice, and sorrow.
At the macro social level, the groups, institutions, ideologies, and traditions granting individuals much of their identity protect their own separate existence by discouraging or outright prohibiting significant questioning and deviation. The cornerstone of the mental system shared by all social and cultural forms is a self-reflective entity, the person, that while presumably unique is only able to exist by adopting particular conceptual boundaries that others re-cognize with the knowledge (similar or dissimilar) upholding their own claim to separate and special tribal and personal existence. Shrewd and well-informed leaders of secular or religious groups—and, in general, those who pretend to care most deeply about individual well-being and the fate of humanity—generally will do anything in their power to keep their followers and peers obediently within the fold generated by their belief and ideals. If possible, they will also try to seduce outsiders willing to have their minds reconditioned in accordance to the limited experiences and myopic traditions and projections their authority represents. All in all, adherents and leaders of proprietary versions of the “right” way of life—or of “the truth” itself, be it secular or religious—are similarly convinced that the redemption of humanity lies in their expansion and ultimate domination of everyone else.
Members in good standing of different tribal compartments sharing the same species-wide herd mentality are, of course, incapable of even acknowledging the on-going tragedy of an atomized and conflicted humanity, except perhaps as a sad situation dimly (intellectually) perceived to which they claim exception. Living as we do in the darkness of a common insensitivity to the pervasive and chronic character of our general state of division and conflict, we continue to suffer its consequences without knowing or much caring to find out what else we could do or be. At some level, this is quite understandable. For what particular response could appropriately confront the challenge posed by forced membership in a species permanently fractured and conflicted along the ever-shifting lines of particular and self-projective tribal and psychological identity? However, at an entirely different level, a clear perception of this seemingly impossible challenge triggers a state of unaffiliated awareness that, being nothing in itself in its unknowing impotence, constitutes a radical shift in consciousness. This shift is radical because full awareness of the terminal ineptitude of the memory and ambition-bound self does block further mechanical reaction to life events based on pre-determined knowledge and the projection of preferred outcomes. The collapse in a given mind/brain of the divisive individualism and conflictive sectarianism of an unsustainable general human culture is the advent of a new mind, a mind free of self-isolating and self-projective knowledge and therefore immensely sensitive, caring, and intelligent—and not tomorrow or some time thereafter, but at every moment.
Deep discontent with the self and the world has definitely freed some, there is no way to know how many (nor does it matter), from the images and ideas that once kept them moored in the dry docks of fixed personal identity and cultural affiliation. The boundless ocean of life has flooded their mind drowning blind obedience to what is known and what may be desired or feared in accordance with what is known. As already remarked, when this overturning of the self occurs, basic elements of character and social function remain in place. Certainly language and other systems of communication, and with them perhaps also the impulse to help others break out of the provincial self-absorption endlessly struggling to fulfill itself in a future largely defined by its own myopia and the blind sectarianism of the cultural entity sponsoring its illusory existence. This liberation of the mind from unnecessary content also has a tremendous impact on the habitual sense of the physical body, which then expands beyond the artificial boundaries imposed by thought until it is fully submerged in the boundless movement of existence where it belongs, and where it has—quite inadvertently—always been.
For most people this, or any other similar account of the possible collapse of the biographical and tribal self, no matter how heart-felt and succinct, will fail to adequately answer the question of why anyone would even want to consider such a possibility if all that is known is the space and time of self-centered consciousness. Since there is no valid theoretical answer to this question, perhaps a different question may point in the right direction. —Will fear of the unknown always remain a sufficient reason to keep the human mind (your mind and mine) ensconced within the known—the known being a gradually evolving identity framed by tradition and interminably attempting to fulfill itself through the realization of some exclusive fantasy of eventual social or spiritual respectability? Does being the unquestioning recipient and transmitter of absurdly limited and limiting personal knowledge and cultural traditions represent the full extent of life, or does this mode of being constitute a tragic reduction and distortion of it?
Some people who suffer intensely the strictures of tradition and psychological habit try to resist them, and in this attempt only manage to be even more at odds with themselves and in conflict with others. However, this painful failure is not necessarily a bad thing, for it may point the way towards a more passive stance in which the operation of all restrictive mental and cultural realities is simply subject to keen and passive attention. From this non-judgmental and non-projective stance, it soon becomes evident that the thoughts and activities that consume most energy are incapable of remedying the multiple problems that burden their life, let alone make a significant contribution to the integrative sanity that the general situation of the world seems to demand with greater and greater urgency. They suffer and are quite aware of the suffering of others, and this is because conformity, indifference, and fear have not completely waterlogged the mind and ossified the heart. There is in them a strange and growing sense that the root problem of human existence lies in the self’s aberrant reduction and distortion of life itself, and so they begin to see, however darkly, that a true solution must involve unthinkable changes in the way they relate to others and the world at large. The very enunciation of this possibility may still elicit in them strong fear, anger, and doubt. However, these reactions are now immediately seen as the final defense of an already weakened general system of self-projective memory/thought, and therefore no longer capable of forcing attention away from the inadequacy of conventional mental and social reality.
For others, whose interest in these matters may be less keen, the doubt, dread, and habit routinely standing guard over established personal stories and culturally prescribed relationships can easily block the depth and intensity of attention that a profound questioning of personal and tribal reality demands. Pressures to conform to an image determined by experience, corroborated by relationship, and sanctified by cultural orthodoxy are enormous, and so generally able to cloud perception and inhibit understanding, this even when some sense of the absurd isolation of the self and the general tragedy of the human condition is present. In this investigation of reality, the seemingly natural urge to maintain the loyalty and respect of the people closest to one is often the source of much lethargy and myopia, for the group think that commonly passes for love is quite intolerant of independent perception and its possibly radical consequences. For example, someone who, having realized the absurdity and danger of identifying with a given nation state, a religious faith, or a social class, shares her perceptions with family and friends may encounter relentless resistance rather than understanding and support. On the other side, just the prospect of challenging conformity and a false but habitual sense of security in orthodox consensus can elicit sufficient fear of rebuke and possible ostracism to stunt the seeker and prevent abandoning familiar territory.
If old sources of identification and validation have become too tight and painful, some ties may be broken. However, if the need for external validation is not among the severed binds, the person may only go as far as seeking respite in some alternative tradition topped by reputable authority figures and promising some type of self-fulfillment for which there is a method and a well-established, traditional memory. Clearly, nothing significant changes when we transit from one form of ideology-sanctioned security to another, because re-formatting the mind according to the dicta of a different source of consensual agreement only reaffirms the same old egocentric and tribal entity that “lives” by projecting slightly modified versions of itself onto the imagined future. The isolated self exists and sustains itself strictly through sequential identification with whatever promises less fear and pain and, consequently, a more desirable (personal) state of mind, and this is why a lucid perception of the insurmountable falseness of this age-old process of culturally endorsed psychological becoming implies a veritable mutation of the mind.
When false promises of self-improvement stop gobbling-up most of the energy available to the organism, it is because attention has locked onto the arbitrary psychological and sectarian boundaries that are the source of the person with all her familiar attachments, problems, strenuous over-compensations, and sorrows. This extraordinary concentration of uncommitted energy and impersonal awareness is the realization that the mental distress and social disorder suffered by all has its roots in “me,“ the entity that while firmly planted in mental isolation, conflict, fear, and sorrow is forever pining for fulfillment in some fantasy of higher status and unconditional love. An abrupt and profound shift in perception reveals that what is necessary is not the improved continuity of the separate self, but its irreversible end —the revelation and the end are one. (2)
Since every person’s sense of separate existence is only a particular expression of a general mental state of psychological isolation and cultural division, there is no way to think or wish oneself free of the conflict and suffering engendered by this state. The prisoner may be intent on gaining freedom through some manner of self-improvement or salvation, but since the prison is himself, this freedom never comes into being. Anthropocentrism, ethnocentrism, and egotism —the central characteristics of the mind conditioned by particular experience and learning— have never yielded to greater time and effort dedicated to diminish the disorder and suffering they create; and they never will. The separate self has always been and remains its own circular dead-end because its maniacal dedication to personal fulfillment through the acquisition of material goods and subtler forms of achievement and status is just the way in which humanity’s monolithic system of conditioned thought maintains itself firmly in place.
At the macro level, the chronic failure of humanity to attain basic security for all continues to evade detection by hiding under the variegated cloak of ascribed and projected illusions that prevents the collaborative unification of humankind and its selfless reintegration into the whole of existence that are necessary. Particular fantasies of future delivery from discomfort and pain are passed-on from generation to generation. Fantasies such as these: the progressive ascent of human civilization through the growth and improvement of largely separate and competing nations, economies, and institutions; the liberation and ultimate fulfillment of the individual through greater scientific knowledge, more conscientious political participation, deeper religious unction, or better entertainment; and, last but not least, the fantasy of unlimited happiness delivered, one upgrade at a time, by the redemptive grace of technological progress.
The general reluctance to see through these illusions has its deepest root in personal isolation and the widespread idea that the formulation and gradual achievement of a program of largely exclusive fulfillment can assuage or altogether overcome the angst and sorrow that division and alienation generate. The energy consumed by the mechanical drive for self-realization on which we depend greatly for our continuous sense of ourselves comes from the survival imperative that permeates the physical organism. The social and cultural forms that buttress different forms of personal identity also tap this great source of energy; without it, they would have no substantial authority and continuity. There is no culture without the individual person, and no individual person without culture. One is inconceivable without the other, and in their futile quest for validation and status, they paradoxically consume much of the energy the organism instinctually reserves for its physical sustenance and security.
We all live and die in the space and time (the reality) determined by the conditioned human mind and the fragmented social and cultural context that this mind continuously generates with the energy of fear and ambition. Either this reality is all there is to human existence, in which case we would have nothing much left to discuss, or it is not. If it is not, then the capacity and willingness to question whether this reality is exhaustive of the truth necessarily leads to the possibility of an entirely different mode of being—one not based on memory, thought, and desire, and therefore inaccessible to these faculties. The realization that this radically different form of being implies the end of all conceivable plans for the progressive improvement of one’s mental state and social or spiritual circumstances bars the participation of thought in this query. The flash of light that illuminates—and thereby extinguishes—the intrinsic incoherence of fragmentary existence is none other than the truth of life indivisible. (3)
If psychologically we are but slightly different forms of the same memory pool, and if the sum total of our (personal) future projections represents only a lightly modified copy of the same fragmented storehouse of recorded human experience, then all further actions intending to somehow reform and improve the individual person, lack real significance. It goes without saying that, if the ability to change oneself in any meaningful way is an illusion, then any attempt to change the memory and self-projection of others (that is, alter their thinking and their very being) is nothing short of preposterous. However, this realization of the irrelevancy of any gradual attempt to improve the accumulated content of self-centered consciousness is not the dead-end that it seems to be, because the mental state that results from it is pregnant with an extraordinarily vital question, albeit one that self-centered thought will never be qualified to answer. Is the psychological and cultural content presently taking up so much of its space, all there is to the human mind? And if it is, how can this content, mostly the dregs of experience, be disregarded or entirely dissipated if any conceivable act of personal will oriented in that direction by a preordained goal merely prolongs the rule of the same dysfunctional mental system?
Let us take a closer look at this strange challenge. Freedom from the determination of subjective memory must also be freedom from psychological desire, for any attempt to provide the self with an improved state of consciousness is only yet another instance of what memory routinely does to extend itself onto the future. No one can desire anything other than what is already known in some way or another, therefore, regardless of the presumed nobility of personal intentions and the amount of energy invested in their realization, human existence remains confined to the limited, atomized, and conflicted realm of the known. It is hugely important then to realize that any particular version of self-fulfillment that anyone can conceptualize, desire, and will into existence at any point in time, only serves to energize the same old state of self-centered mental alienation bent on gradually reaching a slightly modified version of itself.
The common urge to achieve personal (and social) change takes on different, sequential goals demanding great specialization and ever increasing effort, but the apparent progress of the personal life never amounts to anything other than different versions of the same mental disorder and interpersonal conflict we all know so well. Attempts to improve the self and reform society, no matter how earnest, are never complete, and so they never end. Any given effort in this direction simply follows and precedes another, and while each hopeful projection may provide a temporary boost of energy, it is foolish to believe that further instances of the same deception will bring order in human affairs and wash the individual clean of insecurity, violence, and sorrow.
Again, the self-centered and conditioned mind is limited to what it knows, and all it knows is the incessant struggle to move from less pleasure to more pleasure; from less power and status to more; and from too much pain and humiliation to less or, ideally, to none. Under this regime, an immense majority of people continue to live tormented by conflicting desires and the inherent conflict of desire itself (wanting a better tomorrow that only exists as a mental construct unrelated to what actually is), and therefore never able to relate to others, and to life as a whole, in a truly natural, intelligent, and loving manner.
The futility of endlessly repeating what has failed in the past clearly indicates that true change necessarily lies in an un-pre-meditated emptying of psychological memory and a concomitant deactivation of the habitual desire for exclusive status and unnecessary wealth as the path to psychological security and well-being. However, this notion that the brain/psyche could change radically without the self being its central agent appears as so counter-intuitive that, even if it is perceived as reasonable, it generally fails to get traction in a mind addicted to personally determined action (that is, re-action). How could the treasure each one of us calls “me” be the central block needing to be dissolved in order that something undetermined but truly significant may occur? More to the point perhaps, if there is nothing one can do about the problem of separation, conflict, and mental suffering is not this entire book just frustrating gibberish?
These are fair questions, and so we must inquire whether the complete insight into the human condition being talked about here is merely the corroboration of a meaningless human existence that can only continue largely unchanged and unchallenged for as long as it can endure, or is it something completely different —something that thought cannot make out? Does the complete and passive unveiling of the fact and consequences of self’s roots and offshoots in memory and desire end in a possibly lethal mental break-down, or does it bring about the paradoxical blossoming of an unconditioned and therefore integrated and harmonious mental reality capable of bringing sanity and peace to the world? There is no use speculating on these matters. Not if what is necessary is to see things directly and for what they are without trying to determine beforehand the consequences of such a vision. (4)
Any desire for fame, wealth, power, or moral/“spiritual” standing paradoxically fuels a sense of insufficiency and insecurity that is impossible to overcome because it is a reaction to the unthinkably profound and pervasive no-thing-ness of mind and existence. If somehow apparent, this emptiness would demolish the double illusion of personal separation and nearly unlimited potential that are the source of our conflictive and impossible-to-satisfy craving for psychological security in worldly or otherworldly power and status. We are generally so beholden to the absurd intent to prove and expand an exclusive sense of personal and/or tribal importance, that we overlook not just the violence and suffering it creates, but also that it bars awareness of the undivided plenitude of life; an awareness that would charitably terminate this fantasy of an independent and evolving existence. (5)
When it comes to personal development any choice is, at best, insufficient because it invariably comes from the storehouse of limited experience and accumulated knowledge where the storage executive, “me,” plans improvements according to biased judgements about self and others. At its worse, choice in matters concerning the self is false and counterproductive because it erroneously presumes a real separation and substantial difference between the observing self and the self observed (that is between the judge, the accused, and the projection of an ideally reformed self) when in fact there is none. Awareness of this fundamental error immediately raises the question of whether there might be a non-judgmental observation of the images, thoughts, emotions, and desires that flesh out personal consciousness and its gradually evolving relationship with itself, other people, and the world at large.
Is it possible to see the phenomenon of the self as a whole, and can this vision operate without motive, without goals—that is, completely free of the bias and limitations intrinsic to previous experience/knowledge and their prescriptions for an imaginary future ? In other words, can the mind conditioned by experience simply stay with itself, undivided, uncommitted, and fully alert, and therefore not attempting to criticize, resist, modify, or improve what it actually is at every moment? Now, is the radical revolution in consciousness we are talking about not precisely this extraordinary level of mental integration and the extraordinarily attentive silence and stillness it makes possible? Now, who would be able to ascertain whether it is or it is not, and by what means? (6)
If the facts and consequences of personal conditioning and cultural fragmentation are directly, independently, and completely apprehended, they make obvious to thought itself the absurdity of any remedial action coming —as it is bound to come— from its necessarily limited accumulation of experience/knowledge. No further escape or subterfuge is then possible. The mind conditioned by experience sees the limitation and impotence of that experience, and that very perception terminates the habitual chase after the goals associated with an idealized self and carried out by thought and desire. It is clear now that any effort in the direction of self-improvement will be just another futile instance of the same process of psychological remodeling that sustains, not just the biographic comedy of errors we all know as our selves, but also the infinitely greater tragedy of human history.
The definitive departure of thought (images and ideas, memories and desires) from the realms of self-fulfillment and relationship marks the emergence of a mind that is quiet and still simply because it is no longer defined and energized by the past interpreting and using the present to realize in an imagined future a predetermined idealization of the same old self. (7)
Thought is always limited to the knowledge acquired through previous experience and to what this same record may experience and learn now and in the future. It is therefore only logical to assume that what we know and think at every given moment is not, and will never be, capable of capturing or encompassing the source and totality of existence, which we may tentatively refer to as the truth. In fact, given that a multitude of limited, divisive and contradictory forms of self-defining knowledge construct, defend, expand, and extend in time our equally different psychological and social realities, the very presence and contradictory action of these separate realities constitutes the negation of indivisible truth. Put differently, no past, present or future representational definition of personal or tribal identity can ever know or embody the actual, living truth of the whole. Truth as the source and undivided flow of being is unrelated to the words, images, and ideas with which the brain conditioned by experience represents and sustains the experience-based personal entities that consider themselves unique and, quite absurdly, capable of “knowing” the truth from the outside, as it were. The origin and actual unfolding of life (the truth) is well beyond the small reach of our sensory experience and is impossible to reduce, ever, to the categories of cumulative and self-projecting cognition. The truth is not just one among other subject matters that self-centered thought wonders about, learns, and utilizes for its own purposes. For the same reason it cannot be reduced to an object of personal desire and will.
The woefully limited and largely contradictory forms of knowledge and desire on which billions of individuals base their separate lives are incapable of yielding the action that would solve their most fundamental mental and social problems. How could the truth of existence itself be uncovered by them, then? At the very instant in which this becomes evident, images and ideas stop feeding the mad appetite of the self for its own fulfillment. (8)
Imagine life or truth as an infinitely large and profound current of water, and now imagine a patch of foam made up of several billion tiny bubbles of self-centered thought floating somewhere on the surface of that boundless, living immensity. These are very peculiar bubbles, inflated by their common conviction that what they each know, want, fear, and suffer is the ground of their separate existence, and therefore unable to detect the mysterious infinity sustaining and permeating their being. Their persistent delusion makes them highly unstable, so they do not last very long. It is easy to see them sinking, one by one, into the timeless immensity of the life torrent, the buoyancy of each separate story scuttled by the truth beyond thought. (9)
You certainly may not know more than others know regarding life, but perhaps your dissatisfaction with the many available and contradictory interpretations of it (and recommendations for coming to proper living), has great significance. In this most general context, discontent does not imply rebellion for the simple reason that it has no particular antagonists, nor any proposal for a more enjoyable state of mind in improved material and social circumstances. This discontent is, rather, a quiet but resolute setting aside of all the descriptions, explanations, and pseudo solutions given by different traditions. Such stance and action are far from mainstream, but not as strange and difficult as they may seem. It only takes a bit of sensitivity to develop a strong sense that human life, and life in general, could not possibly be as splintered and ultimately as absurd and shallow as we have made it to be. How could the crude map, or outright caricature, that different and contradictory secular and religious ideologies (science included) make of life be the actual thing? The atomized, anxious, conflictive, recklessly ambitious, and ultimately self-destructive mental and social reality that we create and recreate with every self-centered thought, feeling, and action is the most eloquent proof of the inadequacy of our understanding and treatment of life.
If all this makes sense, you possibly feel as well the presence of something extraordinary hiding just beyond what you “normally” experience, think, and imagine, and that cannot possibly manifest unless certain obstacles are removed. The most significant of these obstacles is, without doubt, the foolishness of projecting onto the future any fantasy about yourself enjoying this ultimate reality. You find yourself, consequently, in a sort of existential impasse; a seemingly impossible circumstance in which further action in the direction of psychological, social, or “spiritual” development is no longer an option. Knowing the limitations of what you know and who (you think) you are, you realize the absurdity of struggling to reach something that cannot possibly come from those same limitations.
This passive (non self-projective) disregard of psychological knowledge may initially appear as a deadly form of self-injury and paralysis, but if allowed to be it opens up, drains, and quiets down the habitually noisy, cluttered, and hyper-active field of self-centered thought. It is only in the wide and silent mental space that ensues that the source and full horror of human suffering throughout time and space becomes apparent, and that vision washes away the petty strictures, fears, and sorrows of self-centered being and becoming responsible for all that ails us. The mind free of the burden of societal pressures and personal concerns is one with the wholeness of life, and in this mind thought is merely an impersonal faculty naturally restricted to those practical aspects of the daily life of the organism that warrant its operation.
That this “deadly” breakthrough into the first light of truth is the farthest thing from any focused effort to realize some predetermined sense of what would make the “person” happy and fulfilled, is the greatest paradox. It is also the greatest cosmic joke that the full realization of the irrationality and falseness of the isolated thinking self would reveal the truth by negating the false in the most rational manner. Directed effort in certain directions have only tightened the self’s idiosyncratic bondage within the general and persistent limitations of knowledge, fear, and desire, the limitations that have for far too long defined and sustained the disorderly existence of the alienated human being. (10)
From the vantage point of the conditioned psyche, all we know is our different personal narratives with their built-in fantasies of self-fulfillment and/or possible catastrophe. These stories define who (we think) we are and who we want (and do not want) to become within the parameters determined by the particular cultural schemes to which we subscribe. The different narrative forms that human culture and the personal psyche have assumed throughout history have altogether served the purpose of preventing a direct—that is, a non-representational—encounter of the human species with the mystery of life, the common ground of all actual and potential interrelated being.
The exclusive multiplicity of cultural and psychological identity with its attendant fears and ambitions have embedded themselves so deeply in the very physiology and chemistry of the brain that they appear as the only possible mental and social reality. There is a powerful reason for this. Anything anyone can think and do to escape the often-unbearable demands of personal experience and cultural tradition is just a further extension of the same insane search for exclusive fulfillment that has conditioned the human mind from very early on, and that keeps rolling onto the future on the parallel tracks of hope and dread.
We generally assume that our lives would be utterly meaningless without the urge to better ourselves and improve our circumstances by competing with others and, if at all possible, by getting way ahead of them. In fact, it is quite common to believe that goodness, virtue, and anything else worth anything comes strictly from the quality of one’s allegiance to, and compliance with, predetermined secular and religious norms and ideals. Beyond its impersonal and practical functions, thought crowned with a personal identity is inconceivable without a commitment to a recognized and gradually evolving cause or principle; a commitment prescribing a long sequence of incremental steps one hopes will lead to a predetermined form of worldly or otherworldly self-realization. This built-in drive to find psychological fulfillment and social validation (status) gives particular shape and endurance to the self’s sense of existential separation, thus generating the division, conflict, and suffering experienced by human beings all over the world and at any point in time. Because of the insular self-righteousness of every personal psyche and every cultural orthodoxy, this causal connection between self-projective psychological isolation and the appalling conflict and suffering of humanity has remained largely undetected through the ages. It is not surprising then that a full and impersonal revelation of the consequences of egotistical, ethnocentric, and sectarian separation can instantly demolish any particular instance of this general system of thought that sustains itself through the robotic defense and expansion effort of personal thinkers ensconced within particular cultural enclaves.
The mind not invested in the defense and aggrandizement of a particular identity, and consequently not struggling to justify its existence and procure its continuity through the pursuit of any form of worldly or otherworldly status is not in conflict either with itself or with others. Since an awakened mind does not rely for its action on proprietary knowledge and personal desire, its energy does not serve to feed the inner and interpersonal conflicts characteristic of an evolving separate existence. Again, this mind uses memory to respond to practical challenges, but not as the source and vehicle of a usurping psychological entity bent on prolonging its phantom existence for as long as possible and at any cost. (11)
Overtly or covertly, we dream with freedom as the license to be and become as we please. This intense desire is the reason why we are so reluctant to hear that real freedom cannot exist until the drive for self-fulfillment with all its attendant illusions and disillusions has ended. The freedom “I” want for myself is mere license, whereas freedom per se is an impersonal state of mind not grounded on any particularity or preferred circumstance, and consequently not ever engaged in attempting to overcome the restrictions intrinsic to being some “one” by easing into better circumstances, becoming somehow psychologically better, or someone else altogether.
A disastrous species-wide addiction to the contradictory “freedoms” of exclusive attachment to particular forms of meaning, pleasure, and power resulted in the appearance, very early on, of a thought-based entity divided within and alienated from life by its exacerbated self-consciousness characterized by chronic insecurity and an overcompensating drive to find security. This entity has never been able to go beyond the mental and social disorder that mar what seems to be an inexhaustible potential for intelligence, beauty, and love. In our times, the multiple addictions of the separate self are trespassing mental, societal, and ecological limits with a recklessness that if left unchecked could, in the relative short term, bring about unbearable living conditions for a majority of human beings, and eventually unimaginable destruction to the grip of organic life on planet Earth.
The central difficulty with our stubborn attachment to exclusive associations and disassociations is, of course, that an end to its negative consequences implies, not the partial and gradual reformation of the addict, but his disappearance, and we fear the end of personal consciousness, as we fear death itself. However, this dread may be only another facet of the same fantasy of separate being given that a mind free of the limitations and rigidities of a self-projecting personal and tribal memory is the natural and therefore the healthiest and most joyful mode of human participation in life. (12)
We seem to spend our days simultaneously asserting and resisting who we actually are, as we cling to the hope of becoming in the future someone significantly better than we are now, even though there is no actual ground for such projection. The future in psychological terms is an illusion; now is all there is. While still caught in this mental illusion it is evidently impossible to see oneself, at every point in time, as a peculiar case of cultural and biographical conditioning permanently encased within the fundamental mental profile of the conditioned human being and, by extension, of the species as a whole. In other words, we do not see that the modifications we hope to effect in ourselves do not in the least alter the ancient and relatively hidden species-wide mindset that determines how we live and die and, worse yet, that forces us to blindly infect future generations with the same general programming. We are generally so obsessed with ourselves, our plans, and circumstances that we fail to realize that, beyond surface appearances, we are not very different from anyone else. Distinct personal characteristics and their projection do not constitute exceptions to the general fact of a mind conditioned by particular experience and formal learning.
How then does one face the fact that unique personal existence is an illusion that perpetuates itself through the further illusion of progress through professional or spiritual achievement and material gain? Even beyond that, lies the challenge of uncovering whether the chimera of the self may be blocking the manifestation of an infinitely deeper and otherwise inescapable reality, a reality that being common to all is the negation of self-centeredness with all its contradictory preconceptions and damaging hopes.
Drunks are known to routinely and without much consequence confess to their insignificance. For pretty much the same reason, it does not mean much to verbally affirm that the self does not have any intrinsic reality of its own, that it is only an ordinary bag full of particular images and ideas related to previous experience and future fantasies “better” than those used by others to know, defend, and further themselves. If the actual unreality of the self is not directly perceived triggering the actual loss of the sense of embodying a unique identity and of managing a relatively open option to a proprietary destiny, then nothing of significance has occurred and the words that may catalyze this perception will quickly fade away.
Does the fact that we are all ineluctable cause and effect of the same tragic mindset not determine the homogeneity of human beings? Perception of this fundamental equality is the first (and last) step into the unknowable realm of undivided and timeless freedom. Freedom from the permanent mental contradiction between the actual and the ideal self and, hence freedom from conflict with others who may still be engaged in the futile effort to be and become something unique and special; something they are actually not.
However, unless this unprecedented perception has actually taken place none of this is apparent. A full insight into the human conditions remains rare because at some level of consciousness there is a forbidding fear that laying bare the fundamental equality of human beings—their common personal insignificance—will inevitably leave one stuck, largely alone, in the unmitigated presence of all the hypocrisy, violence, and suffering of humanity. And, not just alone in this hellish reality, but also immobilized since no action arising from the same realm of conditioned and fragmented consciousness has the capacity to transcend it. This inescapable isolation and impotence of the thinking self is precisely what needs to be witnessed, but fear generally keeps one well within the protective isolation of tribal and personal existence and still struggling to become someone better and happier, even though this fantasy carries within the seeds of endless struggle, and inevitable dread, conflict, and failure.
Exclusive self-projection is disastrous, not just for those mightily and more successfully striving in the direction of self-fulfillment, but also for those far more numerous others who, while caught in the same egotistical struggle albeit at a lower level of efficiency, will most probably suffer being side-swept by the brutal right-of-way claimed by the first. To be sure, the capacity to procure as much power and privilege as might be attainable by cutting off emotionally and intellectually from the pain and sorrow of others does not in any way eliminate the certainty of failure, loss, and suffering; at least not for very long. In fact, the actions and omissions of “the best and the brightest” amongst us often enough provide the most glaring example of the dull senses and opaque mind without which the sorrow of others cannot be ignored. The nearly catastrophic damage we are altogether inflicting to the life-support systems of the planet makes evident the idiocy and insensitivity of our common appetite for self-fulfillment.
Self-centeredness cannot see and overcome its own myopia; it takes insight to do that. Insight being the direct and necessarily impersonal perception of billions of human beings organized in competing groups and doggedly striving in conflicting ways to maximize physical and psychological pleasures while minimizing personal loss and pain. The instant in which this chronic urge to attain worldly and other-worldly self-realization is seen as the mental illness affecting humanity as a whole, is the same instant in which the mind is irreversibly washed clean of its particular personal content. Psychological and ethnocentric being and becoming endlessly create and recreate the hell of the human condition in mental time (the imagined time necessary to become) as well as in the actual unfolding of historical events. Hell is indeed all of us everywhere on the planet striving simultaneously to assert and improve our worldly and otherworldly circumstances and ourselves with a self-serving rapacity that is offensive to life itself. Barring a fundamental alteration of individual psychology and the brain physiology that underpins it this labor-intensive Hades of ours will remain as the only possible human reality existing in permanent denial of its most immediate truth.
Proper consideration of the possibility of insight begins with the realization that it is useless to form any idea of what it would be like to live outside the messy egocentric and ethnocentric reality just summarily described. Given that each one of us is already caught in the general struggle to realize oneself, to pose an imaginary state of future selflessness as a new personal goal is merely to grant yet another extension to the disillusion- and conflict-prone process of exclusive personal striving that is (and has always been) our basic problem.
No “one” knows what it is to live an impersonal life, and this is because no idea can describe what it is like to ride the crest of the ever-breaking wave of the present moment, being nothing and becoming (wanting) nothing. However, anyone can see that complete liberation from the suffering intrinsic to conflictive and conflicted self-centeredness cannot possibly occur without the disappearance of the accumulated past, the angst-ridden utilitarian present, and the fearfully or greedily pre-imagined future that are the essence of the personal and tribal self. All that matters is to put an end to mere speculation so that there might be a direct perception of the fantasy of a separate and unique personal existence and the very real and dangerous consequences of this fantasy. Anything else is just part of the old familiar trickery of self-centered thought sustaining itself through idealized or fearful self-projection. (13)
In a million different ways and for thousands of years we have tried to change our thinking and our behavior, and have yet to achieve anything of fundamental significance. Many would instantly contest this assertion by bringing up the social, political, and technological achievements most salient in their minds, but this type of rebuttal only reflects the unwillingness to be aware of the actual state of the world. The fact is that in spite of all the often-contradictory examples of progress that different people could interject as proof of human intelligence and civilized ascent, individual human beings and consequently the species as a whole, remain incapable of solving fundamental psychological problems from which all kinds of interpersonal, social, and ecological disasters continue to ensue. The human mind has never stopped sowing in the soil of individual human lives the rotten seeds of hatred and violence, fear and greed, confusion and habit, and the species as a whole has never stopped reaping the same scant and bitter harvests. All this, notwithstanding the obvious advances made in diverse fields, and clearly benefiting in many respects the lives of the most privileged sectors of humanity. The fact that great technical feats and great surgery are performed daily in some parts of the world ought not to blind us to the fact that division, insensitivity, hatred, and violence are still major forces shaping the way most human beings experience life. War, brutal economic exploitation, and all forms of interpersonal strife are, just like many contrasting acts of self-sacrifice and kindness, still well established aspects of our reality.
Throughout our history, there have been parallel and successive proposals for thought and behavior modification created under the assumption of the possibility of a gradual transit from the actuality of the “bad” individual to the idea of a “good” individual, an improbable entity that only exists in the vastly improved future of imaginative desire. Nirvana, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the kingdom of heaven, and the ownership society, all equally fit the carrot-on-a-stick fantasy of gradual change. This common belief in the feasibility of predetermined social and psychological transformation stands on two severely mistaken presuppositions: The first is that the individual psyche has a unique existence in relative isolation from everything else. And the second, that the “me”—the presumed managing center of the personal mind—has the ability to know the failings of the peripheral psyche as well as the character of its most desirable future state of being, and consequently also the power to design and implement the sequence of steps necessary to go from one to the other. Although all available and possible secular and religious theories of gradual psychological change stand on these same erroneous premises, they do so in ways not trivially different from one another, which accounts for their sustained exclusiveness and consequent, and often belligerent, opposition. What is worse; regardless of their particular content, different ideologies of personal change equally condemn their adherents to a life torn by contradictory desire. This because, as noted before, while the psychological modification they urge is only a projected ideal (an imaginative mental construct), the thought and behavior patterns meant to be changed are real and actual, as well as indistinguishable from the “me” posing as the agent of their modification or eradication. The self is in no way different from the fear and hatred that he may wrongly see as external to himself and hence also subject to his control, and this is why the very efforts we make to develop and improve ourselves in pre-determined, partial, and gradual ways, only manage to make us even more self-centered, hypocritical, and neurotic.
The liar who is practicing how to tell the truth in the future continues to be a liar in the present. Since the present is all there actually is, this person can well remain a liar until the day she dies without having ever resolved the tension between her actual lying and the absurd ideal of gradually becoming an honest woman. It is not particularly hard to see that in this particular case, as in all other instances of psychological change, there is no middle ground between honesty and deceit. Nor is it hard to see that goodness has no opposite, and therefore that there is no gradual path that may ever lead anyone to it. On a different plane altogether, but for the same reason, it ought to be obvious by now that a fervent belief in either salvation or reincarnation is merely a convenient excuse for avoiding the radical and instantaneous change that the perception of facts demands.
The truth of the matter is that gradual and partial psychological change is no change at all. The superficial evolution from one psychological form to a superficially different one is only the way in which an ossified general system of mental and relational dysfunction sustains itself over time. Conflictive cultural fragmentation and self-centeredness are the fundamental traits of the conditioned human mind and of the cruel world this mind creates, and these traits remain constant regardless of what successive forms may be adopted by any particular idiosyncratic mixture of the basic attributes of the general mind that every separate individual represents.
Again, seen from the separate vantage point of the self, this notion of the falseness of gradual psychological change may seem a tragic dead-end, but full and impersonal perception of the actual falseness is, in itself, the irreversible break in the continuity of self-centered thought that is necessary and that leads to something that self-centered thought cannot ever discern. A sudden undoing of the mental programming that determines existential alienation and sustains the process of self-centered becoming in a particular brain implies the release of this brain from the general field of mental disorder and consequently a perhaps imperceptible, but immensely significant, change in the human mind. (14)
A mind constricted by the fixed images and ideas representing a personal past, informing its present, and projecting its future, is largely unaware of the all-encompassing flow of existence as it is actually unfolding at every moment. Informed as it is by a particular and limited body of accumulated knowledge and projected desire, the tribal and personal mind is unable to perceive anything else accurately and completely, and its action is consequently never fully adequate and sufficient. Trapped in isolated identity and contradictory desire, this narrow mind cannot stop creating and recreating the same splintered, acrimonious, and sorrowful world to which we are so accustomed that it passes or the only possible reality.
A serious and sustained look at the sorry state of human affairs and the day-to-day smallness of the proprietary existence claimed by the self (oneself and any other self) makes all this amply evident. And if this verification of actuality is untainted by preconceptions and phony ideals it naturally unleashes the quest to find out whether a mind not conditioned by psychological experience (and, therefore, not engaged in any effort to defend or alter itself according to predetermined ideas), is possible. The very conception of this possibility of an impersonal, time-less, and therefore free mind also demands careful examination, for it too may be just another foolish projection of an increasingly desperate personal intellect. Do we even have what it takes to see ourselves as mere instances of a general mental state in which the mental imprint of past human experience mechanically interprets and reacts to present experience intent on realizing in the future a predetermined modification of itself? Can the “me-mine” mind withstand the consequences of such a perception?
What can possibly free the mind from its provincial and self-absorbed moorings? What can make it restrict itself to the type of prerecorded knowledge that is necessary for the assessment of practical problems, the formulation of desirable future outcomes to these problems, and the design and implementation of the sequential actions most suitable to their achievement? If it is true that we are nothing if not a particular instance of a generally conditioned human mind, it must also be true that freedom from mental programming is not a goal any individual can set for herself. Yet, it is precisely through this perception of the futility of the laborious process of self-preservation in mental and chronological time that the limitations of the mind conditioned and isolated by experience dissolve.
The human mind is not doomed to exist in relative isolation and suffer interminably the fear of unavoidable physical and psychological threats. It can exist free of the struggle of inner contradiction and the pain of interpersonal conflict and enjoy something more than unstable relationships and never fully satisfying loves, pleasures, and joys. However, this can only occur when it is finally clear that any relative advantage granted by personal identification with any form of secular or religious meaning will suffer the shallowness, hard labor, and hostile anxiety intrinsic to its self-serving exclusivity. The restrictions and impositions that inevitably accompany any manner of psychological and cultural identification and corresponding dis-identification are not the true nature of mind per se, which is why direct and complete perception of the unnaturalness and terrible consequences of exclusive being and becoming brings about their collapse. Freedom from the falseness of the separate tribal self does not imply the absence and lack of empathy that one may fear, but rather the advent of an intelligence and compassion that self-center thought can never imagine and much less realize. (15)
We may feel better psychologically when on the basis of a meaningless comparison with other nations we declare ours to be, not just the one we happen to know and love best, but exceptional in just about every measure, superior to all. However, indulgence in this kind of patriotic delusion also blinds us to the fact that even the most innocuous forms of consensual exclusivity stoke the potential for misperception, erroneous action, and blowback aggression. Violence is not just that displayed by thugs; is has a multitude of forms. They stretch from indifference to the sorrow of others to outright physical or psychological aggression, and all points in the ample spectrum of violence are equally rooted in the mental narrative from which the personal self derives its identity and sense of status. In other words, violence is implicit in the sense of existential uniqueness claimed by both every individual psyche and the collective forms of protective isolation within which the story of the self exists, protects, and sustains itself. Prominent among these forms is the nation state with its geographical and cultural boundaries and the fancy arc of its historical narrative. Particular cultural groups (each distinguished by the traditions and ideologies that support their particular sense of being and becoming) merely serve as the chambers of resonance with which the violence implicit in psychological separation amplifies itself. The central point in this being that the every human being who is identified with particular cultural forms is responsible for the fragmented state of the species and the destruction and suffering that results from extremely competitive and often hostile interpersonal and inter-tribal relations.
It is nice to imagine that the citizens of the more “developed” nations of today will somehow find the way to end their overly glib and generous contribution to the violence and misery present in the world, but such a scenario has few historical antecedents, if any, and in our present circumstances, it seems most unlikely. Rich and powerful nations are arguably most responsible for the perdurability of human suffering. Divisiveness, insensitivity to others, and a proclivity for violent conflict are, however, constant and universal psychological traits and hence present in every human group regardless of the nature of the claims from which its individual members derive their particular sense of personal identity, security, and self-esteem. Bellicose chauvinism is by no means exclusive to the citizens of the wealthiest and mightiest nations of the world, just as the idiocy of spiritual self-righteousness is not sole privilege of the faithful belonging to the major religions of the world. While our relative degree of personal and tribal responsibility for the splintered and chaotic state of the world may vary somewhat, in the end we all have to face the same mess, confront the same violence, and experience the grief and insecurity that comes from partaking of the same conditioned mental system administering the fate of humanity.
Human beings living at any time and at any place generally find difficult or outright intolerable, whatever they have not directly experienced, learned, carefully planned, fervently expected, and laboriously worked to achieve. We live so tightly identified with the type of experience prescribed by our particular groups of reference, that the unfamiliar, the “other,” tends to be perceived as hell. Reality is, then, the general field of experience in which practically every human being is jostling brutally with others in the defense and expansion of whatever each defines as “me” and “us” in short-sighted comparison with “you” and “them”. In this atomized and conflicted reality, there is no exoneration for anyone from loneliness, fear, trauma, violence, and sorrow. The poorest and more ignorant amongst us suffer enormously, but the wealthy, the most knowledgeable, and influential suffer also —they suffer their insensitivity and some of them their guilt, and they are hobbled by having so much more to achieve and defend, to fret about, lose, and regret having lost. No one can reasonably expect exception from sorrow in a world that is the sum total of our particular forms of ethnocentric and psychological isolation and where we all live ignoring, marginalizing, utilizing, and tormenting one another… many, many while all along pretending to be exceptionally nice and loving.
The whitewash camouflage of our particular cultures and the airtight protection of our personal alibis are generally so effective that this view of things may seem at first glance just sheer cynicism, if not the worst form of madness. However, is a separate personal existence convinced that violence and all other personal and social problems are really someone else’s responsibility not, in fact, the very definition of misanthropic lunacy. Sanity lies in the simple willingness to see the facts and effects of self-isolation and cultural atomization, and when this sanity goes far enough, it turns into the impersonal love that is alone capable of helping others dissolve the cover of innocence that hides the ugly truth of psychological separation. Sane love is the absence of the made-up entity that sustains itself and its ill-adviced alliances by competing and fighting with others over what each thinks is the great significance of its past, present, and future life.
To see oneself and the world as they really are, and therefore as a dynamic and self-perpetuating singularity is to discover oneself—the self—as cause and effect of the uninterrupted destructiveness and suffering of the species. Again, only direct perception of fundamental facts (and not just a conceptual understanding of a description of them) has the power to end our reckless participation in a general mindset that feeds on the inter-personal and inter-tribal conflict that has remained constant for millennia. The broken-up mind we share and suffer is responsible for the world we share and suffer, and the other way around. (16)
The very definition of ourselves as significantly different from others and as distinct from culture and the whole of existence creates a profound sense of vulnerability that we then extend almost limitlessly into the future through contradictory developmental and redemptive schemes paradoxically designed to assuage or altogether transcend for each one of us, separately, this common existential angst. More simply put, in the very attempts to fix or transcend in different and contradictory ways the insecurity of our separate being, we perpetuate conflict and sorrow, and with them, this illusion of separation that is the source of all our problems and sorrows.
The existential isolation of the human being is unreal, and this why fear, conflict, and sorrow go away when the psyche is no longer engaged in the wrongheaded attempt to consolidate, reform or escape its falsely proprietary life by moving towards an idealized, but still self-isolating, future version of itself. When the mind is free of conditioning, and therefore integrated, quiet, and devoid of anything towards which it would feel compelled to regress or progress, there is simply no one there to suffer. Furthermore, in the absence of a needy and sorrowful entity bent on pleasurable worldly fulfillment or a fantasy of otherworldly redemption, the mind can never be a willing source of harm, humiliation, and sorrow to others. (17)
The fundamental barrier to human unity and peace is clearly the “me” entity that lives its self-isolating and conflictive life conditioned by experience and guided by ambition, and always within the behavioral parameters determined by the tribal cocoons granting much of its personal identity and sense of manifest destiny. It is important to note that, even subscription to the same ideological sanctuaries does not assure a life free of internal dissention and painful disagreement with others. For it is practically the norm that any given consensus will be disrupted from time to time by some of its adherents struggling on behalf of whatever better deal they may imagine the future will hold once they slip into the equally asphyxiating embrace of a presumably cozier mental sanctuary. In more intimate quarters, With distressing frequency the relationship between a man and a woman, that is critical to the well-being of children and society as a whole, does not survive the divisive tendencies of two different sets of personal experience, each driven blindly and hard by the often opposed desires those same records are prone to extrapolate.
It is difficult to assess what is proper to say or do when the true nature and consequences of a separate personal existence begin to appear as incontrovertible and universal facts. Because we are all embodiments of this strange phenomenon of existential alienation, we tend to avoid direct perception of the convoluted ways in which we—the great problem-solving phantoms—avoid confronting ourselves and our mechanical propensity to fall back, again and again, on false ideological explanations and the inadequate ameliorative reactions these explanations deploy. To make matters even worse, we detest problems that defy our capacity to solve them, and in this particular case we find especially abhorrent the impotence that comes with the realization that there is no thought or action commensurate with the problem posed by mental conditioning and the consequent hostile and suffering alienation of the self. However—and here lies the greatest paradox— if this impotence is not avoided, but taken to heart, it proves to be the revolution of consciousness that is so necessary. A non-reactive and unknowing state of impersonal awareness dissolves the conflictive relationship of the self with itself and others, and in this manner begins to subvert with a love beyond thought the falsely evolving reality of a chaotic and violent world. (18)
There was a time when people thought that the sun revolved around the Earth. Now we know that it is the other way around; however, we still think that life itself revolves around the self. Contrary to massive available evidence, we hold firm in our naïve belief that, if contradicted enough, life will eventually defer to our most absurd desires.
If carefully observed, the pain we suffer and the pain we inflict reveal in a flash the irrationality and danger implicit in the psychological distinctions and social hierarchies that self-centered thought has spawned throughout the ages. This flash of insight constitutes the end of the self, something that ought not be feared because nothing much is lost in it—only the illusion of existential isolation and the customary waste of energy demanded by its over-compensating defense and forward momentum. The self does not exist as anything other than a particular instance of a species-wide accumulation of self-defining and self-modifying images and ideas largely unrelated to life and therefore toxic to the human organism and other living things. (19)
It is a glorious spring afternoon as I ride the bus into town where I am to meet with a friend. In contrast with the fields and woods exploding with life and radiating beauty, human affairs remain the ugly mess they have always been, and appear to be steadily getting worse. Absurdly, we continue to hope that things will improve as the result of new installments in the same old serial novel that records and recounts the clashes between the contradictory cultural domains to which multitudes of confused, frightened, and yet surprisingly hopeful human beings continue to surrender themselves looking for security and happiness.
If we are to find the sanity we never seem to have had, something absolutely out of the ordinary has to occur. Decency and survival itself demand that we find a form of caring, and therefore intelligent, coexistence granting everyone a life free of injustice, fear, and conflict. This affective intelligence is not, for sure, a more or less improved version of our chronic, mad, stupidity, and it is for this reason that it involves a complete and instantaneous abandonment of exclusive personal and tribal identification with objects, and the images and ideas fleshing out proprietary stories. What is set aside mentally in terms of fixed worldviews, fears, desires, and deadening habits is relinquished externally in terms of commitment to exclusive associations and hateful disassociations. Everything finds its proper order when the mind is no longer loaded with meaningless and contradictory conclusions, irrelevant duties, and interpersonal acrimony. Intelligence is not the capacity for accumulation and prompt and accurate retrieval and application of great amounts of knowledge (although there is a particular place and purpose for such mental function); it is rather what results when the memories and projections that create the illusion of the separate and evolving person cancel themselves out. When this occurs, all that is left is a mind that, precisely because it is nothing in itself, is able to see things as they really are and act accordingly. (20)
Serious consideration of the perils we face at this stage of human history seems to leave only one fundamental question standing, and that is whether a mutation of the human brain/mind is possible. The presence of the word “mutation” in this context is no mere rhetorical flourish. What justifies its use is the imperative need to reject all hope that the solution of the chronic and interrelated problems we have suffered over millennia may “eventually” come through further modifications of contradictory ideologies and social structures, the endless upgrading of clever technology, or new additions and subtractions to the conditioned personal psyche itself. When an unprecedented perception suddenly reveals that the dynamics of recorded experience and the confused and reactive volatility of the thinker are the on-going source of the entire mental and social condition of humanity, it destroys the hope that the solution of our fundamental problems will come at some point in the future and from the same rotten mindset. The outcome of the foreclosure of all the hopelessly sectarian hopes and gradual and partial reactions of self-centered thought is a radically different mind that can use knowledge when appropriate, but that does not exist within its realm.
Let us not get ahead of ourselves here again, however. Even though one may have awakened to the urgent necessity of freeing the brain/mind from the limitations imposed by millennia of additive, fragmented, and self-centered thought, there may still be a deeply-set resistance to the implication that the very nature of this extraordinary change negates, not just the self’s participation in its occurrence, but its very existence. It is understandable that the brain/mind would resist, consciously as well as subconsciously, the threat to wipe away the conditioned process of self-centered thought that has for so long defined its identity and dominated its operation. Even though it may seem reasonable in some respects, a possible solution to the problem of separate being that rejects the self’s own experience, and therefore denies its “right” to choose a solution from alternative sources of knowledge, generally appears as absolutely intolerable. After all, the very reason for being a person lies in this person’s presumed ability to project itself onto the future according to its own experience and design. Thus, even though we may feel strongly that there must be a whole lot more to mind and life than what we make of them, we generally balk at the assertion that we actually do not exist as anything other than the puny stream of biographic and ethnocentric thought that is “me” acting and reacting in fixed, habitual patterns. However, this reluctance to look and see collapses when and if it is itself perceived as just a mechanical defensive gesture of the mind’s conditioning by experience. All that is left then is the phenomenon of separate and conditioned human consciousness, but no longer capable of any further attempt to realize itself, and therefore no longer vital.
What, then, are the demands that the willingness to open oneself to the possibility of yielding to an impersonal mode of human existence pose? The first one is that self-inquiry cannot occur without an unusually honest, lucid, and complete observation of the self and of the world (the self and world not in theory and in isolation from one another, but as an actual and unitary phenomenon). This level of integrity and thoroughness naturally implies an a priori rejection of all the contradictory secular and religious descriptions and solutions that have been given (and that might be given in the future) to the problems of existential isolation, suffering, and death. It is the necessity of this rejection that generally elicits a conscious or unconscious alarm loud enough to cancel the investigation. Is it not foolish and irresponsible to negate the value of what different sectors of humanity have over millennia concluded about the general condition of the species and how best to deal with it? The short answer is that it is not, and for the simple reason that the contradictory assessments and prescriptions put forth by particular cultural traditions are in themselves a huge part of the general mental programming responsible for the division and endless confusion, violence, and sorrow afflicting the species. One can argue forever about the relative value of different and opposed sources of personal and tribal meaning. However, nothing can change the fact that unless we abandon exclusive sources of identification and stop struggling to realize our particular version of a common and wildly contradictory desire for undisturbed self-fulfillment, our conflicted separation and the suffering that comes with it will continue largely unchanged and unchallenged. In a nutshell, the cultural and psychological programming ossifying the mind and blinding each one of us to our equal participation in life cannot withstand the simple and direct realization of its falseness and futility.
Who will end war, the exploitation of the poor and the weak, the agony of bad relationships, and the unavoidable sting of personal failure and death, if not a mind free of the absurd beliefs and obligations of exclusive personal stories and tribal ideologies? (21)
The possibility of a life free of insecurity, conflict, and sorrow is not within the reach of self-centered thought for several reasons, not the least of which is that the very sense of perfectible exclusive existence that characterizes self-centered consciousness implies continuous separation from life itself, and this separation in turn necessarily implies insecurity, conflict, and sorrow. Why is it so difficult to see this otherwise glaring fact? Why do we endlessly opt to identify with something or other in order to pretend being something we are not? And perhaps most of all, why do we struggle so hard to improve our separate identity and develop its cultural sources when it is evident that no effort or gain can ever grant security to a psychological entity that does not exist as anything other than a flimsy and highly unstable collection of self-projective memories? Surely, the mad insistence of our striving responds to the fact that seeing and conceding the insignificance and impotence of self-centered thought implies the terrifying prospect of a seemingly unfair and tragically premature end of the thinker.
The realization that no one can think and industriously will his way out of uncertainty and sorrow in order to attain some projected form of exclusive and uncontested happiness comes as a traumatic mental shock. It is bad enough to realize that thought may not be a tool placed by life under the authority of the self and mostly for the efficient procurement of its own fulfillment. But it is outright unbearable to find out that there may be no distinction between the self and the process of thought on which it (the self) depends to be what it thinks it is and endeavor to evolve into what it wants to become (along with and in very much the same conditions as everyone else). If despite the aversion and fear felt, the movement of the mind is observed up-close and in a non-reactive manner, it becomes obvious that the self has no existence of its own, that it is only a constellation of images, ideas, memories, and projections created by a transpersonal system of thought conditioned by biological, tribal, and personal experience. When the non-existence of the self is made evident, the psychological dimension dominating the process of thought is drained of all power and ends. Because of its nature, this momentous realization does not really occur to any “one” in particular; it is just that the limitations and burdens of personal being and tribal belonging suddenly stop constricting the impersonal mind.
Any maneuver of thought attempting to determine the possible outcome of this dis-illusion of the conditioned self constitutes only further avoidance of fact, and provides clear indication of the persistence of the images, ideas, and projected ideals that make up the person and its narrative. The negation of all mental projection is a truly unprecedented action. An action unrelated to the fixed contents of memory, and therefore outside the mental timeframe within which the phantom locomotive of the self mechanically runs its irrelevant course on the narrow tracks endlessly laid by thought between the recorded past and the imagined future. (22)
Even though the desires and fantasies of different people appear to vary widely, most human beings want essentially the same thing, to be physically secure and, most importantly, to feel psychologically certain. The urge to feel stable and safe in our respective identities, properties, cultural enclosures, and chosen projections has become so powerful that any person, event, or circumstance perceived as blocking this urge is likely to trigger great distress and, with it, strong and inadequate or outright violent reactions, which in turn put in jeopardy the physical security of everyone. Regardless of their height and thickness, the walls of material wealth, personal merit, and social status we build to protect ourselves never appear as good and strong enough. Witness, if not, how we labor throughout our lives and fight against each other to expand and strengthen them.
To be human (as we generally know our humanity) is to be deeply and permanently troubled by a more or less hidden sense of existential isolation and vulnerability, and a closely related and equally persistent dissatisfaction with one’s relative position in the general social scheme, secular and/or religious. This fundamental unease implies, in turn, living at odds with ourselves and others; others who are just as alienated, lonely, and anxious as we are, and just as prone to resist with overt or covert violence the neurotic claims our conceits regularly make on theirs. The practically universal desire to trade who we think we are for what we think we ought to become is especially noxious. The effort to attain an idealized version of oneself creates an almost permanent state of mental contradiction, stressful hyperactivity, and interpersonal friction that reduce and distort perception while gobbling up most of the vital energy of the organism. Naturally, the stressful demands issued by the desire for gains in psychological well-being and social status can only produce more of the same sense of insufficiency and unhappiness that motivated previous instances of the same desire, and that will continue projecting more of the same.
Despite the horrible record of idealized self-projections, most human beings continue trying on different methods and tactics with which they hope to reduce or get rid altogether of an unpleasant state of consciousness that sticks around even in periods during which pleasure, joy, and love may also be present with some intensity. We use every trick in the book to avoid seeing that our efforts are futile because there is no mental distinction that can be made between the “me” actor embodying the desire to reach an ideal and steady state of consciousness, and those aspects of the psyche that stubbornly resist the change for which they are targeted. Any conceivable method trusted with delivering a more pleasurable state of mind in greater self-esteem merely provides the old memory-based self with a new source of overwrought personal identification that will merely consolidate and fuel its ongoing process of ever unsatisfied becoming. No amount of material gain, and no level of social or “spiritual” status can ever deliver the permanent stability and security that the isolated self so fervently desires and for which it continues robbing the mind of its natural energy and sensitivity.
Conversely, the realization that there is no psychological change of any significance, just superficial modifications of the same anguished and grueling personal insularity, dismisses the value of accumulated experience and knowledge and deactivates its future projection, thus effectively terminating the self-centered process of thought. It is suddenly clear that the managerial self is a mental phantom that can only sustain itself through the further fantasy of an objectified psychological and social periphery permanently in need of fixing, improving, or transcending. The immediate truth is that we are prisoners, locked in the particular storage bins of a species-wide deposit of experience and knowledge, and forever struggling to escape by projecting onto the future improved versions of the same impossible arrangement. In the closed loop of conditioned human consciousness, both personal and collective, new modifications or additions to the experience and knowledge already accumulated in particular brain/minds, never amount to significant change, and they never will. Freedom is something entirely different, it is not personal, and its manifestation is urgent.
If the revelation of the self’s impotence is survived, it is only because it is still being externalized—this impotence—as something about which the same old self can do something about. Fully absorbed, however, this revelation is a deadly blow to the existential and cultural conceit of the self. No one who believes in the autonomy and uniqueness of her personal existence can survive seeing herself as one among billions of individuals uniformly conditioned by pre-personal, cultural, and biographic experience. “I” may think myself radically different from other people and well in control of my thoughts and desires, but the truth is that this central entity, for all its domineering bluster, is just one among many layers of thought, and an infinitesimal cog going around and around within a general mental machine of planetary and historical dimensions. The preexisting images and ideas that define the identity of every “one” serve to decipher and evaluate every instant of actual experience, and this restricted and entirely biased interpretation then serves as a functional bridge to a future already partially foreseen with the same reduced and inadequate body of knowledge. The results of this form of mental functioning are, in most respects, disastrous; and if this is correctly perceived, then it is also clear that whatever else may be done from the same obtuse platform is bound to ensure that future generations will experience the same tragic division, strife, and sorrow that is so sadly affecting our lives today.
To avoid extending this crucial argument beyond its proper realm, it is important to clarify as often as may be necessary that there are forms of knowledge and mental projection that are not only beneficial to different individuals and groups, but also essential to general physical survival and well-being. It is clearly good that a young couple may be able to grow into mature parents capable of giving their children a proper education, and that someone aspiring to become a doctor in medicine be capable of the systematic learning necessary to provide correct diagnoses and provide excellent service. However, there is no reason why their particular vectors of experience and growth should lead either one to self-isolating feelings of superiority and an insensitive demand for excessive and unjust power and privilege. In the functional realm, it is clear that different societies can render different products and specialized services useful to other societies and the planet as a whole, in the same way that only many different individuals can provide the complementary functional talents and roles that any given society needs at any point in time. However, it is also clear that humanity would profit immensely from the emergence everywhere of individuals who no longer put their social function to the service of their psychological security and social and economic status, and who are therefore capable of relating to others in a just and harmonious way.
I once befriended a man who worked in the maintenance department of a company renting apartments and houses in a university town. In the context of a conversation about the wide gaps in remuneration garnered by different skill sets and knowledge, he told me of a bad experience he had recently had when ordered to fix a malfunctioning toilet in a house rented by a visiting professor. Apparently, the learned man had been quite rude and insensitive due to the low value he granted to the occupational and economic status of a repairman, and my friend greatly resented this treatment. As the story unfolded, however, it soon became evident that the contempt was mutual. The professor was for him just one of many equally arrogant intellectuals, so ignorant and incapable in practical matters that without the knowhow of someone like him they would be utterly lost. Contempt is an all too common human trait, and the constant overt or covert friction it generates amply demonstrates the shakiness of our particular (albeit rather common) sense of self-importance.
The indifference and disdain bred by cultural division and personal isolation is evident in the often-strained relationships between the genders; between the young and the old; the rich and the poor; the black, the brown, and the non-black or brown; the learned and the ignorant; the secular and the religious. They are also readily apparent in the relations between different nations, different professions, different organizational levels, different life-styles, and all the different subdivisions of all conceivable human groups, all the way down to the family. At the germinal level of the individual, the intensity of self-absorption and cultural arrogance blocks sight of the extent to which the foolish need to compare oneself with others (in order to be who we think we are and are meant to become) degrades everyone and makes life for all far more difficult and unpleasant that it needs to be.
There is no particular and progressive way to significantly ameliorate or stamp out the negative consequences of a general phenomenon of unconscious and conscious recollection of pre-personal, cultural, and biographical experience mechanically projecting itself onto an imagined future conceived in as many different ways as there are differentially conditioned individual brains. However, a complete, non-reactive, and therefore impersonal insight into the true nature and consequences of this phenomenon opens an unthinkably different mental space from which a culture free of unnecessary division and hateful relationship can naturally emerge. (23)
Those whose discontent is deep enough to eschew eventual satisfaction through the worldly and posthumous gains that different secular and religious conceits advertise, are generally left alone. This, of course, unless their peers find their radical independence offensive and punish it with ostracism or worse. It is not that they isolate themselves and suffer from loneliness and abandonment, for they are alone only in the sense of not subscribing to the biased optics and false security blankets of any particular cultural or personal point of view. Their independence and freedom affords them a very wide (in fact, centerless) angle of view capable of accurately apprehending the insane fragmentation of humanity as well as the rapid convergence of the toxic psychological, cultural, and ecological variables that are increasingly threatening the very survival of the species as a whole.
While it is true that this dangerous global situation did not take shape overnight, it would be misleading to restrict blame for today’s particular configuration of personal and social problems on the long sequence of historical events that have preceded it. This, simply because the most destructive components of the human condition have their actual source, at every point in time, in each particular human mind relentlessly clinging to a divisive identity while simultaneously attempting to satisfy a bottomless appetite for personal fulfillment according to particular cultural and biographical dictates. The historical countenance of humanity and our personal responsibility for its ugly appearance today (and almost guaranteed reappearance tomorrow), obviously cannot be accurately perceived, let alone radically altered, if we still looking through the same aberrant optics of personal and cultural preference.
In other words, we cannot properly see the dire circumstances in which our species finds itself if we are still looking at ourselves, at history, and the world at large, with the particular bias of a stringently defended personal tale ensconced within a larger cultural narrative at odds with most others like it and largely unrelated to life itself. Accurate and complete perception of things as they are (in oneself and in the world at large) demands a mental state in which psychological and cultural blinders have fallen away in a single flash of self-abnegating understanding.
In their attitude towards the plight of the species, human beings seem to cluster along different groups and along a continuum that has total disregard for human suffering at one end, and heightened concern at the other. A huge group of people is simply so ignorant or so indifferent to history and a global view of reality that, despite the availability of pertinent information, they remain unaware to register what is now threatening the well-being of humanity and diminishing its odds of survival. Following them is another very large group of people who, while acknowledging the threat of endemic and inter-connected psychological, ethical, social, and environmental problems, still believe that such threats are not anything that their good gods and their dedicated religious or spiritual practices could not resolve, for them at least, in this or the next life. Still another group, much smaller, congregates individuals well informed about challenges to their particular societies and to humanity itself and quite willing to do something about them, but only within the reform parameters determined by their respective cultures and their own personal inclinations, skill sets, needs, and ambitions. They are people, both secular and religious, who represent a great variety of professions, trades, and degrees of activism, and who generally work within one (or a small set) of countless organizational frameworks, both governmental and private. They tackle different problems at different levels, armed with resources, methodologies, and technologies of very different quality and quantity, and guided by often contradictory, if not opposed, ideologies. Their work is often both necessary and good, but it is never sufficient. It attempts to cure symptoms while failing to consider the fundamental cause of the general human illness.
In a group apart stand the folks who rely on violence to straighten out disagreements emerging between different cultural groups and tribes, or simply to attain through force what they cannot by other means. They come armed with a whole array of deadly techniques and weapons, and are trained and ready to kill or be killed, morally and often legally, for the claims and beliefs of the nations, organizations, and faiths upholding their identity and sponsoring their participation in war, insurgence, or revolution.
Altogether, the thoughts, attitudes, and actions of the people who integrate the groups drawn above, sustain the ancient status quo of humanity thus putting the quality of all life on Earth in greater and greater jeopardy.
If we do not get too tangled up criticizing the limitations of this admittedly crude portrait of our species, it may help us realize that, unless we personally break out of dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns (without replacing them with new ones), the mental health and the physical safety of billions will continue to deteriorate, as is already quite evident. All that is necessary is the willingness to open our eyes to the divisive character of thought conditioned by personal and tribal experience and the superficial or outright bad quality of our relationship with others and with life as a whole. In simply seeing ourselves for who we actually are (and not for what we would like to become) lies the undoing of our personal attachment to different sources of identification and, in that, the only possible solution to our collective idiocy: a mind free of conditioning, and therefore an intelligent and caring mind.
The contradictions inherent in the sustained effort to both attain and resist cultural and psychological form have shaped the entire history of the human presence on this planet. And this chronic and conflictive effort to adopt and endlessly modify separate and exclusive cultural and personal modalities of being finds, in the dangerous circumstances in which we live today, the launching pad for the continuation of the same barren transformative process in the future. Whether proceeding through abrupt revolution or gradual reform, our disparate efforts to effect psychological and cultural change have never come anywhere near the level of steady global cooperation that could respond to planetary challenges with care and intelligence, that is, without conflict and violence. In other words, the partial, gradual, and localized structural or organizational “progress” we have managed to attain over the ages has left largely untouched the conflictive psychological and cultural division that is at the root of all our intractable mental and relational problems. Even though our knowledge and technological prowess has accelerated dramatically in the last two centuries, the substance (if not the appearance) of our ancient psychological, interpersonal, and social condition has remained fundamentally the same.
After thousands of years of presumed civilizing advance, the isolating and desensitizing effect of self-isolating mental accumulation is still firmly in place, and so the human being remains insecure, confused, fearful, greedy, and overtly or covertly violent. We have not overcome our dependency on particular ideologies, their rigid institutional structures, and the contradictory paths they prescribe promising that they will eventually lead to the security and pleasant circumstances everyone in the world desires, in one form or another, and with the same absurd exclusivity. We have never been willing to stop this personal and collective madness; not even now that it is more evident than ever before that securing the “freedom,” happiness, or salvation we feel we deserve necessarily implies enormous violence and suffering. Memory-based self-fulfillment invariably involves conflict with others employing different paths to different forms of the same fantasy of self-fulfillment; it also involves conflict with ourselves as a result of contradictorily attempting to replace what we have and who we actually are with what we hope to experience and be in the future.
Practically barred from most minds and conversations is any serious consideration of what, if anything, could actually terminate our conflictive separation from one another within a given group or society, let alone what could bridge the even larger distance separating “us” from people gathered within different consensual enclaves and from life itself. It is terribly sad that, even when relatively aware of the immense problem posed by our multifaceted alienation from “not-me.” we remain unwilling to move beyond this frozen state to find common ground in the unpredictable torrent of life and, in that, harmony in our relationship with one another and all other forms of life.
There are many reasons why we find it so hard to admit to the futility of our robotic self-centeredness and the many dangers it poses. One of the most important ones is the reluctance to see ourselves as directly responsible for the grind of human history crushing countless minds and lives as it lurches forward, day after day and generation after generation, in search of the fraudulent goals of personal fulfillment and tribal progress. We also instinctively block perception of the fact that our vaunted existence is just a self-projective image made and propelled by thought, and we do so without realizing the cost of renouncing participation in the unfathomable movement of life, the fluid ground of all being. In other words, by opting at every instant for the familiar and somewhat predictable mental and social environment of what we know and possess, and think ourselves capable of learning and acquiring in the future, we unwittingly lock ourselves out of the mystery of undivided existence.
We are generally terrified of whatever we may imagine is the loss of self and will do just about anything to avoid the stigma of social rejection that may accompany this loss, and so we keep avoiding facts focusing our attention instead on whatever gradually evolving form of vain hope may best suit our particular fears and ambitions. Running through the labyrinthine corridors of worldly busyness or religious salvation guided by the allure of some preconceived future harbor, we cannot see that hope is as illusory, multiple, time-bound, and contradictory as we ourselves are. The savagery, hidden or manifest, with which different nations, groups, and organizations permanently treat one another feeds on the bottomless energy of billions of us clinging with the force of fear and desire to the claims and aspirations of conflicted and conflictive personal and cultural identities.
Contradictory hope and habit are at the root of our mental morass and habitual attachments. Behind the desire for change in gradual, partial, idealistic, and predetermined ways hides the desire to continue being who we actually think we are and doing what we are most accustomed to doing. Regardless of any ethical consideration, this internal tension between what is and what ought to be dulls our minds and zaps our energy. It is also a permanent source of dependence on others and therefore also of conflict with them, and consequently fear. Future psychological goals mean nothing much; they merely distress our minds and degrade our lives with deceptive thought and toxic behavior unrelated to what is actually happening: life. Change is instantaneous and complete or it is nothing much at all, because the present moment is all there actually is and the notion of gradualness merely serves to hide the continuity of the immense problem of self-centered separation and its eternally barren hope for change. In this context the words “instantaneous and complete” are meant to imply that the profound change necessary is not related to the gradual accumulation of knowledge that makes up personal consciousness and derives protection from the particular cultural shelf on which this contracted mind stands supported by particular ideas and circumstances.
Even the word “change” is inadequate here because it denotes sustained duality, the difference and distance between the “me” who defines, carries out, and benefits from change, and the peripheral psyche that suffers it. What is of interest is something totally other than the separate entity that remains actually separate and divided while working hard to effect some partial and gradual modification on aspects of itself and its circumstances tomorrow. The definitive termination of the impetus for exclusive, gradual, and therefore insignificant reform of the person and its communities of reference is the irreversible collapse of the separate self and its life of unrelenting obsession with false idealizations of itself.
What is an ordinary but decent and alert person to do with the realization that just about everything s/he is, stands for and does is an integral part of the general disorder and fragmentation of the human species and, as such, contributing to the bleak future projected by everyone’s irrational (perhaps suicidal) hopes for “more and better”? Well, the first thing not to do is succumb to terminal depression or otherwise duck the challenge posed by this shocking realization of responsible impotence. In the singular, unprecedented mental stance created by this perception of personal and general reality, any re-action begins to be instantly seen as serving the continuity of the same barren mindset dominating the mind and creating conflict and suffering. The self-centered aspect of thought may desperately continue to emit wishful or panicky projections in order to prevent an impersonal and therefore full and stable realization of itself as the cause of the entire human predicament. The simultaneous exposure and destruction of the specific petty memories, likes, dislikes, hopes and sorrows that flesh out and sustain “me” opens the heart and mind to the immense suffering of humanity, and make possible the love and intelligence proper to their seamless participation in the mysterious wholeness of life. (24)
The human mind has in thought an extremely powerful tool with which to solve just about any practical problem. However, this extraordinary faculty to learn and to apply information, without which we would have not survived early challenges to our presence on the planet, at some point assumed a particular cultural and subsequently personal identity that gradually came to see itself as a unique and relatively autonomous act of existence. In other words, the somewhat objective and therefore impersonal capacity to think and thereby develop ingenious tools and organizational systems capable of satisfying the fundamental needs of the organism and its immediate community became self-reflective and increasingly committed to the long-term and largely exclusive fulfillment of itself and its clan or tribe. This cultural segmentation and personalization of thought made possible humanity’s dominant position in the world but, paradoxically, it also brought about our chronic existential insecurity and the constant conflict that results from the attempt to mitigate this insecurity in ways that are often, not only in direct contradiction with those of others, but directly opposed to life as well.
The innate mental capacity of the species became the dominant force on the planet as it grew slowly within the circumscribed cocoons of countless families, clans, and tribes dedicated to their own defense and expansion. These social forms with their characteristic strength in numbers and increasingly smart division of labor offered early protection against inclement weather, animal predators, and other forces of nature, but they soon also had to defend themselves from the attack of other similar forms. Initially, only the struggle over food, territory, and other possibly scarce material resources motivated the hostility developed by different human groups. However, as tribes consolidated and grew, their identification with the cultural and “spiritual” claims derived from a shared representational record of experience (and exacerbated by power-hungry authority figures), became itself an all-important psycho-cultural territory that had to be protected and expanded at any cost. Along with the need for territorial expansion, the need to prove the superiority of tribal ideology became a powerful motive to harass, exploit, and destroy other tribes and their own sectarian beliefs—and, behold, we are still at each other’s throats and for the same reasons.
The mind that had started early on to buttress itself through protective inclusion within the fold of a large and powerful social and ideological enclosure went on to further strengthen itself through enclosure within an even more private personal narrative. Today, after thousands and thousands of years of presumed progress, we remain hopelessly divided through our constant identification with particular sources of biographical and cultural knowledge-based pseudo-security. We are nothing more than particular expressions of this toxic personal and tribal knowledge with their common false claim to separate existence and manifest destiny, and failing a veritable mutation in consciousness, this is all we will continue to be until it proves to be the cause of our own destruction.
The central source of our misery is and remains the divisiveness, limitation, and mechanical self-projection intrinsic to personal/tribal mental time, mental time being no other but what we remember and what we experience and project through the prism of what we remember. There is nothing new, ever, about the broken-up and violent world that sectarian and self-reforming (self-projective) egotism endlessly creates and recreates with it characteristic fear and greed. The dread, pain, and sorrow we endure today living in this broken-up reality full of antagonism and devoid of truth is very much the same as that suffered by all those human beings who have preceded us down the millenary corridors of pre-historical and historical time.
If the core problem of the human species is conflictive psychological and cultural division, then it is patently absurd to keep struggling to improve and empower our groups of reference and ourselves. Are not our personal and social reforms, at best, woefully superficial and insufficient? How should we then stop wasting our energy in irrelevant change and use it instead to end our common psychological and cultural isolation? There is no how. The request for method that inevitably crops up once this most fundamental challenge becomes evident ought to be instantly rejected because it merely seeks to satisfy the self’s desperate need for continuity in separation. Any methodological practice presented as the means to the eventual end of the “ego” (as if the ego were different from the good person who wants to get rid of it) is only another source of identity based, like all the rest, on exclusive consensual knowledge and the promise of security in an idealized projection of the self. Any predetermined goal and method employed to improve or transcend the self represents just one more instance of the same ancient dilatory tactic that allows the same self to reconstitute itself by transiting, along with other similarly conditioned psyches (the proverbial like-minded individuals) from a worn-out identity and an uncomfortable consciousness to a presumably new and better one.
The process of self-centered thought streaming through every brain is the root cause of all our mental and relational problems, therefore it is only reasonable to be willing to endure whatever may be the consequences of its eradication from the soil of the mind. Given that the thought and time-bound self is the problem, the only real solution is its instant demise. The necessity of this ending is all that needs to be seen, and on this seeing depends the possibility of true caring and intelligence. In this fundamental matter, thought and time are entirely beside the point. (25)
One suffers the inability to force the world to be more compliant with one’s more selfish or more generous wishes. In the more reduced sphere of personal relationships, one suffers not being able to force or seduce others around into greater compliance with proprietary views and desires. Especially hurtful is the incapacity to fulfill whatever noble or ignoble fantasy may be presently prescribing what one ought to be and become, possess, and accomplish. If properly seen, the very absurdity of this craving for personal change and control destroys the delusional claim to ongoing separate existence that at every moment renews its resistance to the actual truth of undivided life. More bluntly put, the separate and self-projective fantasy of psychological existence cannot survive complete perception of its harmful absurdity. A single and instantaneous mind shattering glance at what is actually occurring in our lives and, by logical extension, in the world as a whole ends the endless loop of self-serving thought.
Now, how is one going to find out if this ending does not imply landing in the street, a mental institution, or six-foot underground? Who is going to show “me” that only in the absence of self-centered thought—that is, only in the collapse of the mental time created to approximate an imagined state of “my” self-fulfillment—is there an end to fear, hatred, ambition, frustration, and all the other psychological vexations we commonly endure? And if there is no authority and no tried and true methodological path gradually leading to this profoundly reasonable ending of our psychological being, how is it going to come about —and not tomorrow or in ten years, but right now? (26)
It is not an exaggeration to say that the self is conflict, because the presumed uniqueness and autonomy of a distinct psychological entity depends on comparing itself with others in terms—positive and negative—that carry within the seeds of division, discontent, and antagonism. A reactive mental process based on some one’s exclusive experience and bent on reaching whatever it may imagine as a less limited or entirely unlimited experience necessarily implies constant conflict with itself and other similar processes existing and unfolding under other personal guises and disguises. The resistance and fear inherent in psychological isolation and the on-going struggle to become whomever we may think we ought to become while still being who we actually are distort and diminish the perceptual and cognitive capacity of the organism and damage relationships, both often beyond repair.
The expansion and defense of the personal self over and against whatever may be perceived as internally and externally resisting its sense of entitlement and self-importance—past, present, and future—wastes an enormous amount of vital energy. This mechanical battle of the self with parts of its own psychological and physical reality, the reality of others, and the diverse and contradictory cultural legacy of the species at large, also obscures the mind’s natural and impersonal participation in the all-encompassing mystery of life. Constricted in themselves and diverted from the truth by the forced march from the remembered past, through the interpreted present, and onto the foreseen future, our minds remain shallow and afflicted by frequent distress, acrimony, and pain. What is worse, we traverse the miracle of every instant of life without paying attention, almost willfully outside the timeless depth of its infinitely loving embrace. (27)
Since we can only desire to avoid or to experience something that is in some way already known, the process of psychological becoming moves strictly within the ever-limited field of knowledge, prodded along by notions of reward and punishment that are also learned. Just as the sciences are permanently refining their particular bodies of knowledge by adding (or subtracting) information without ever reaching completeness, the personal psyche is permanently learning and modifying itself without ever attaining the fulfillment it craves. If the futility and danger of this mechanical accumulation and projection of psychological experience somehow becomes evident, the “knowing” self might in the same manner project into the future the desire to deprogram itself but, of course, this does not happen either. Selective biographic and tribal experience has so deeply conditioned the brain/mind that it is only capable of relatively minor reforms to itself and its cultural context, the same type of reforms human beings have been conceiving and implementing throughout history without ever managing to solve any of the fundamental psychological and social problems affecting the species as a whole.
After thousands of years of going around and around on this carousel of superficial “progress” (the countless inventions, therapies, conversions, reforms, counter-reforms, and revolutions that flesh out our sorry and reiterative personal and social history), we remain isolated and fundamentally unchanged, and therefore still mired in conflict and sorrow, victims of our own idiocy. On the surface, we are all separately working to become greater, better, happier, or saintlier in one way or another, but down below the human procession moves on as determined and grim as ever. Despite all the grandiose, triumphal stories, and all the heroes and their noble intentions, we continue being what we have already been for thousands of years: particular manifestations of a single phenomenon of isolated and self-projecting mental conditioning trapped in an endlessly futile struggle for irrelevant distinction and ephemeral power and pleasure. We are organisms seamlessly embedded within the general matrix of life, yet remain stubbornly convinced by our own disparate thinking that we are something else, something especial, and in the process of possibly, eventually, becoming even better.
If this deception becomes evident to itself, as it were, it does so in the form of a fundamental question that the intellect finds intolerable. Can the human mind be free of the fragmentary, preprogrammed, and reactive thinking that is responsible for the perdurability of the problems and sorrows suffered by the species as a whole? There are several reasons why it is so difficult to stay quietly with this vital but unfamiliar question, but the main one is that we find its interdiction of pre-informed action chasing after a predetermined goal not just an intolerable imposition, but a personal threat. We are deeply conditioned to ignore or dispel uncertainty by relying blindly on what we already know or can learn, and here we are confronted with a challenge that, being outside the realm of knowledge, demands silent passivity from the person presumed to be the deposit of relevant information and thinker of intelligent thoughts. This non-reactive silence, this dreaded abyss of insurmountable ignorance and impotence that results from attentive observation of the mental, social, and ecological reality of the thinking and craving turns out to be the all-encompassing and ever unpredictable embrace of life and death—all that ever is. (28)
Attention, which can only occur in the present moment, is habitually overridden and eventually damaged by the process of self-centered thought ceaselessly moving from the representational past to the represented future using its judging, conniving, and emoting as the vehicle for this incessant transit. The person talks incessantly with herself, mostly about herself, but also about glimpses of the immense universe of not-me that lies disconcertingly both inside and outside the head. This persistent chatter, full of preconception, agitation, and fixed agendas, blunts the senses, dulls the mind, and deadens the heart. Worst of all, it makes of life something it is not.
The human mind/brain has so overloaded itself with images and verbal conclusions about self, others, the world, and the otherworldly, that it is now hardly capable of paying proper attention to what is actually occurring at any given moment, even if it is within the physical organism or in close proximity to it. What we have then is a species-wide condition of alienated inattentiveness of which the self-centered mind—any and every self-centered mind—is but a particular example. Any personal, symbolic record of exclusive past experience acting on behalf of similarly foretold future expectations is, as already mentioned, opaque and dull enough to block the otherwise shiningly evident wholeness of life.
Attention, on the other hand is an impersonal, moment-by-moment affair, nothing in itself, and therefore the natural and acutely sensitive stance of a healthy mind, a mind that is one with life. Attention passively receives everything that might be going on at every moment without reference to previously recorded knowledge and without motive or intent regarding future experience or further knowledge. Because it is not time bound, this exquisite, innocent sensitivity cannot contribute to the formation of a fixed self-reflective and self-perpetuating center in the mind. Attention is what is left when the existence of the separate self is shown to be a fraud and is no more. (29)
Change itself becomes a venerable tradition to those who religiously conceive, advocate, and implement its endless successive iterations, blinding themselves in the process to the irrelevancy of gradual modifications of personal and social behavior that leave intact the enduring corruption of the human mind. The more self-centered provincialism transforms itself the more it remains the same. This statement will, no doubt, sound like heresy to those who use the idea of progress to hide the fact that beyond obvious scientific and technological advances (albeit far from universal and necessarily benign), the human mind―and, as a result the species as a whole―remains as primitive, cruel, and grief-stricken as it ever was. The rather arrogant and misleading notion of “human progress” survives only by suppressing basic awareness of the present scourge of war and other intimately related social, economic, and environmental ills afflicting great majorities in under-nourished societies and significant sectors of the population of their over-developed, macrocephalic siblings. At the level of the individual, belief in the piecemeal and systematic perfectibility of the human being, even if hardly effective, remains as common as ever in response to an otherwise intolerable incidence of inter-personal conflict and mental suffering. Because it is privately experienced, this conflict and suffering are commonly seen in isolation from the general mental system, and thus taken to be an inevitable part of life.
If human progress was as extraordinary as many like to think it is, would it not have long ago produced caring and intelligent human beings aware of themselves as inseparable from the matrix of life, and therefore incapable of harming themselves, others, or their ecological niche? Why is it that a simple corroboration of the dangerous stagnation of the species is so seldom part of serious conversation? Is it that we are generally so absorbed in our personal security blankets and escape plans and so taken by the ridiculous “exceptionalism” claimed by every deluded cultural enclave that the glaring general lack of mental well-being and peaceful relationship goes simply undetected?
This insensitivity is most paradoxical given that without unbiased and thorough perception of what is actually happening mentally and socially there is no real solution to all that ails us. For as long as the totality of a fragmented and alienated human existence goes undetected, we remain personally isolated, dull, and unable to love —and therefore directly responsible for the unmitigated continuity of this sad, constricted existence.
Attention is, contrary to self-centered thought, undivided and therefore free of self-pity, and predetermined preference and abhorrence. Undisturbed by previous record or future agenda and untainted by any form of antagonistic resistance or collusive acceptance, attention is selfless, unaware of itself. In the lucid and quiet space of a keenly alert, impersonal mind, it is the facts themselves that act. The absence of the self is the presence of attention, and vice-versa. (30)
The words “Malaysia,” Russia,” “Israel” or “Sudan” may mean the world to the citizens of the nation states to which they refer, but they are meaningless if they serve to draw their attention away from the inviolability (actual and not just theoretical) of human flesh. What is the value of “Argentina”; “The United Kingdom”; “Japan”; “Peru”; “France”; and “The United States of America” if they are just particular accumulations of memories and self-serving intentions incapable of responding rapidly and intelligently to what is actually happening in other parts of the world and in the world as a whole? The general problem being that the sense of identity and status granted to individuals by these and other equally chauvinistic national entities systematically prevents the non-sectarian intelligence that affective and therefore effective cooperation naturally requires.
The same is true of all the different forms of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and any other existent or potential forms of exclusive religiosity, because despite their common claim to exclusive righteousness, they are also and altogether responsible for a divided, conflicted, and suffering world. Perhaps the only redeeming virtue of sectarian religiosity lies in that their colossal failure in changing the human mind and heart makes evident (to those willing to look) the necessity of a mind free of dogmatic obscurantism of any stripe.
Clearly, the emergence of a unified, just, and intelligent humanity is impossible without the collapse of the mental ghettoes, both secular and religious, that keep it divided and conflicted. The truth is that everything depends on this therapeutic cleansing of the mind, so what we are discussing here is not just someone’s pet sectarian theory searching for inadvertent minds to recruit. Do not trust anyone other than yourself to verify the actual mental and social reality to which this text merely refers. That is, gather all the energy that might be necessary to see the source and consequences of your identity and the behavior that identity determines, because only that perception can free the mind from the yoke of ideological and biographical myopia, and perhaps return it to the all-encompassing intelligence of life that is its source. Take whatever time you may need to consider the available evidence, and do not avert your eyes if you come to see that, without the advent of this mind, humanity will either perish in a catastrophe of its own making or continue to degrade indefinitely through the violence inherent in ideological fragmentation and the irrational egotism of the conditioned and self-isolating mind: Your mind, my mind. (31)
It is far from wise to embody and aggressively assert a particular set of ideological convictions because, while this may serve to assuage the anxiety that invariably accompanies the wish for eventual fulfillment of the personal ambitions these convictions inspire, it does very little to ensure their realization. After all, tribal beliefs are never completely true; everyone else everywhere is making the same type of foolish assertions, the only difference being that they do it on behalf of their own selfish and angst–ridden dreams. The competition within and amongst different forms of sectarian thinking is fierce, and the representational (mental) ground on which they grow is highly unstable. The attempts to create new sources of ideological consensus are equally wrong-headed because any such nubile enterprise will necessarily embody the same old state of unstable separation that exists by opposition to the entities and individuals it leaves outside itself, and that is permanently prone to the stresses of dissension and the sorrows of secession. Different forms of isolated psychological and cultural knowledge are inevitably both cause and effect of the vicious cycle of insecurity and violence that has given shape to humankind and has already lasted thousands and thousands of years. Now, a mind that is somehow aware of these commonly hidden but incontrovertible facts cannot remain, by virtue of this very awareness, a puppet of cultural authority and a hostage to the senseless identity and the dangerous personal projections this authority grants.
The urge to protect established identity and realize its imagined fulfillment dissolves at the very instant in which it becomes evident to thought itself that any idealized projection of the self will inevitably turn into a new edition of the same frustration and misery that prompted previous exclusive ambitions and dreams. There is no personal achievement or imagined divine intervention capable of superseding the contradiction inherent in wanting to become in the future the splendid imaginary creature that one is not. Since the personal experience and the more formally acquired knowledge that inform and fuel desire are necessarily exclusive and limited, even when these personal projections are fulfilled and the benefits stick around for awhile, there is still no lasting security and peace. Soon enough the same old sense of insufficiency and vulnerability comes back to fuel further irrational desire for a better self and a more pleasurable state of consciousness.
Any particular person is but a given embodiment of a general human experience of isolated and sustained uncertainty and insecurity, and the erroneous assumption that different and contradictory identities and ideologies may provide relief or escape from the pain of this experience is the source of countless iterations of the same insecure and uncertain mental isolation. The creation of “new” forms of personal and tribal identity only extends the realm of self-centered separation and prolongs the ever-hopeful struggle thought necessary to overcome this state sometime in the wished-for future. Only when the mind is no longer rooted in proprietary memory and wildly striving for a psychological security that does not exist can the isolation separating us be bridged and our joint alienation from life annulled. (32)
You have probably noticed how much we all want to be loved, admired, and respected, and for what vastly different and often opposed reasons. You must also be aware, for sure, of how we suffer the harsh push and pull of contradictory desire, the curse of chasing simultaneously and with the same urgency after different and incompatible goals. Wanting to remain as we actually are while simultaneously wanting to become someone better or someone else altogether is indeed the most pernicious of all conflicting desires. This on-going struggle to turn the actual self, with its customary confusion, provincial insensitivity, and limited or outright bad relationships, into a pie-in-the-sky mental reformulation of itself is not only futile, but also a damaging waste of energy.
From this profound and commonly overlooked contradiction stems our common sense of psychological time, the mental space created in the attempt to move from what “I” think I have been and have become today, and towards what I think I ought to be in the future. Naturally, slightly refurbished versions of oneself do not ever manage to move very far away from the febrile and culturally sanctioned workshop of mental time from which they come. Nor are they ever able to opt out of the isolation, frustration, acrimony, pretense, and grief that are the trademark of memory-based, self-centered thought. Only when it becomes obvious that this egocentric regime can never produce the peace and happiness we all contradictorily crave in separate and exclusive ways is the mind made pure and fully alive, indistinguishable from its true source.
The natural ability of thought to foresee and satisfy in time the needs of the organism, survives intact this upheaval. The very end of the knowledge-based person grants it its natural and proper role. It is proper that thought be barred from pursuing the false certainties and shallow pleasures (social, economic, and “spiritual”) that a phantom person depends on to be and become what it wishes. Now, if this mutation of consciousness is possible, and not just another pipe dream, how exactly does the absence of the process of thought conditioned by cultural and personal experience, affect the mind? This is not a viable question because if this immense alteration has actually taken place, there is no one inside or outside anyone’s skull who can answer it with any more specificity than pointing to the wholeness of life which is obviously not a product of thought liable to be turned into serviceable knowledge, identity, status, and power. Thus, any demand that whatever lies beyond the self be reduced to knowledge merely indicates not having yet seen the absurdity of one’s own claim to progressive separation. (33)
It is maddening to be at odds with oneself, and yet to have one layer of the psyche reprimand other layers for not reflecting the dominant layer’s best representation of itself or for putting in jeopardy the achievement of pre-established future goals is a common and frequent experience. There are plenty of reasons to question the general belief that one aspect or part of personal consciousness can and should tell the rest how to better perform, perhaps the most important and obvious one being the otherwise obvious integrity of the psychic field and of the brain. Now, the veracity of this assertion that the conditioned human psyche is one and undivided, if truly perceived, has no perceiver—that is, there is no separate entity there to own this truth and use for its own purposes. If there is no independent “me” in the mind/brain, then who is going to travel the distance between the day-to-day and moment-to-moment reality of the psyche and the projected idea of the self finally living in improved mental and social circumstances of which there is already a memory?
Awareness of the singular nature of the conditioned human psyche and of the illusory quality of its “improved” comparative projections is in itself the collapse of the time/space through which self-centered thought moves. In other words, without the artificial latitude necessary to be someone and become someone better, there is no independent “me” layer of the psyche travelling gradually away from the images and ideas representing what it was and presently is, and towards the images and ideas representing what it feels it ought to attain and become in the future. The very nature of this perception determines its independence from the record of personal experience that extends itself through time by means of idealized or fearful projections. (34)
The poet, the musician, the philosopher, the politician, the reformer, the guru, the scientist, the artist, and the revolutionary, all aim to have others receive, celebrate, and sustain through time their particular interpretation of the human presence in life, and the value and purpose they give to it. However, since there is wide discrepancy among the notions these diverse manners of experiencing life put forth, in the end they only manage to preserve the fragmentation and dissension that have all along characterized the on-going tower of Babel —the history of humanity— in which we all live and die.
For an ordinary human being who means to be honest and who happens to earn his bread by making art, this poses the question of whether this rather unconventional argument can find adequate portrayal in artistic imagery. Is there an artful expression capable
of conveying something that is essential, bu not as the proclamation of a pre-established particular truth animated by the intention, overt or covert, of congregating people so identified with this new dogma that they will want to assume the task of gradually expanding its influence in the world? In other words, given that thought itself is at the root of all problems, art ought to limit itself to the direct and succinct illustration of the fact that for as long as we remain self-centered, provincial, and sectarian we will never be able to solve any of the fundamental problems of our existence. There is no such a thing as thinking “out of the box,” because there is no thinker separate from thought, and thought itself is the box. (35)